Illegal vapes flood Florida: Chinese companies dominate market with unregulated

The Florida Retail Federation has raised alarms over the dominance of unregulated, illegal vape products from China in the state’s market, which made up a significant $355 million of the $410 million total vape sales in 2023, urging for stronger state and federal enforcement.

The Florida Retail Federation (FRF) has raised concerns over the influx of illegal vape products entering the state, primarily from Chinese manufacturers. In 2023, these unregulated products accounted for over $355 million in sales, a significant portion of Florida’s $410 million vape market.

The Florida vaping industry is facing challenges as illegal vapes, predominantly from China, increasingly dominate the market. These products, which bypass Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, pose health risks to consumers and create an uneven playing field for legitimate businesses. The FRF, and its President Scott Shalley is urging state and federal authorities to take decisive action to address the proliferating issue.

“Unfortunately, most folks don’t know the difference between an illicit product and a product it’s been vetted and by the FDA, and approved for use,” Shalley said in a conversation with The Capitolist. “And unfortunately, Florida seems to be very much targeted in this area.”

In 2023, the sale of vapes in Florida skyrocketed, reaching $410 million. Alarmingly, over $355 million of these sales were attributed to three Chinese-owned companies: Elf Bar, Fume, and HQD. Fume alone accounted for $162 million, HQD for $127 million, and Elf Bar for $66 million. Florida’s vape market stands in contrast to other states, with its disposable vape sales being nine times higher than New York’s, which only just $43 million in sales.

The illegal vapes flooding Florida’s market have not been vetted by the FDA, raising serious health concerns. These unregulated products can contain harmful substances, putting users at risk. Shalley noted the importance of consumer education to distinguish between legal and illegal vapes, stressing that many people unknowingly use potentially dangerous products.

“I think the biggest challenge is education,” he said. “We’re just really encouraging the FDA to step up their efforts to curb the influx of the product and to provide clarity for both consumers and retailers.”

One of the primary challenges in tackling this issue is the efficient entry of these illegal vapes into Florida. The state’s ports, known for their high volume and efficiency, have become a gateway for these products. Containers mislabeled as toys or other items often pass through customs unchecked, according to Shalley, making it difficult for authorities to intercept them. He subsequently called for increased efforts from federal agencies to provide clearer guidelines and more stringent enforcement.

“Our ports are very, very efficient and deal with a lot of product, which means there’s a lot of movement. So while there have been some seizures, there needs to be more action,” he said. “Smaller retailer may not have those resources and is just relying on the fact that the product made it through customs, the products nicely packaged and looks good, and that means it must be okay. And that’s just not the case.”

Recent legislation grants the state authority to require vape products to hold registration and proof of compliance with FDA regulations. However, despite these measures, the FRF believes more needs to be done. The FDA has issued warning letters to retailers and online vendors, but these efforts are seen as insufficient compared to the scale of the problem, leading Shalley to advocate for a comprehensive list of approved and banned products to aid both retailers and consumers.

“I think that the idea of having a clear list of approved and banned products would be ideal, but there are complexities with that with regard to the role of the FDA and the federal government,” said Shalley. “In the interim, we’re just going to continue to ask FDA to step up their enforcement efforts, step up their evaluation process and address this as is the problem that it is.”

Read More: Illegal vapes flood Florida: Chinese companies dominate market with unregulated