E-Cigarette firm sues to stop 34 companies from import, sale of ‘illicit’ products
RICHMOND, Va.— Altria Group, Inc. said its operating company NJOY, LLC, has filed litigation against 34 foreign and domestic manufacturers, distributors, and online retailers for what the company claims are illicit disposable e-vapor products that are unlawfully marketed and sold in the State of California and elsewhere.
The suit alleges that these companies manufacture, distribute, market, and sell products that violate California’s flavor ban law, are unlawful under federal law and subject to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) action, and illegally compete against companies that comply with state and federal laws.
Named e-cigarette companies include, but are not limited to, brands such as Breeze, Elf Bar, EB, EB Create, Esco Bar, Flum, Juice Box, Lava Plus, Loon, Lost Mary, Mr. Fog, and Puff Bar. Domestic defendants include companies doing business in Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Texas. Foreign defendants are all based in China.
In a press release issued in mid-October, officials said they are seeking nationwide injunction against the import, marketing, and sale of these products and significant compensatory and punitive damages.
“These companies knowingly violate federal and state laws and need to be held accountable,” said Murray Garnick, Altria’s Executive vice president and general counsel. “Today there are two markets—one for those who play by the rules and one for those who flagrantly ignore them. We are taking this action because the current state of the illicit e-vapor market is intolerable, and we must see more action from FDA and others.”
The litigation, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, is brought under four claims: unfair competition, false advertising, false advertising in violation of the Lanham Act, and violation of the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act of 2009.
In related news, the FDA took punitive action this fall against 22 retailers accused of selling Elf Bar/EB Design e-cigarettes, issuing penalties of $19,192 per violation.
These retailers, spanning 12 states, had previously received warning letters from the FDA notifying them of the unauthorized sale of tobacco products, which lead to the issuance of civil money penalty (CMP) complaints after a second visit by FDA agents.
Earlier in the year, the FDA issued 168 warning letters to brick-and-mortar retailers for the illegal sale of Elf Bar/EB Design products. These warning letters are the outcome of a nationwide retailer inspection initiative conducted throughout August 2023.
Similarly in June, the FDA issued 189 warning letters to retailers. For the first time, the number of retailers in the convenience channel outnumbered vape and tobacco shops. A month earlier, the FDA enlisted the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency to “red list” certain vaping products, keeping noncompliant devices from entering the country.
Ann Simoneau, director of the Office of Compliance and Enforcement in the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, stressed the agency’s commitment to monitoring the entire supply chain, including retailers, for federal law compliance. This includes follow-up inspections and surveillance of those who have received warning letters.
ABOUT BIDI VAPOR
Based in Melbourne, Florida, Bidi Vapor maintains a commitment to responsible, adult-focused marketing, supporting age-verification standards and sustainability through its BIDI® Cares recycling program. Bidi Vapor’s premier device, the BIDI® Stick, is a premium product made with high-quality components, a UL-certified battery and technology designed to deliver a consistent vaping experience for adult smokers 21 and over.
Currently, all 11 of Bidi Vapor’s flavored vaping devices are going through the FDA’s scientific review process. As a result, the company can legitimately sell its flavored products while under evaluation, subject to the agency’s enforcement discretion, said Azim Chowdhury, partner with the Washington, D.C.-based Keller and Heckman LLP.