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E-cigarette imports must undergo more scrutiny to protect kids, Sen. Schumer says

Counterfeit flavor pods from China are aimed at kids, posing ‘serious health risk,’ Schumer said.

Sen. Chuck Schumer called on the federal government on Sunday to crack down on unregulated electronic cigarette products imported from China.

Schumer requested that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and border control target websites that do not verify the age of customers and that sell illegal pods, which he said come in flavors designed to appeal to kids, such as bubble gum and gummy bears, and mimic Juul’s products. The Senate Democratic minority leader also demanded more vigorous inspections at ports and airports and enhanced monitoring of stores for improperly imported pods, which Schumer said may contain particularly high levels of nicotine, tar or other chemicals that the FDA is not able to regulate.

“When an adult goes from smoking regular cigarettes to e-cigarettes, that’s a good thing,” said Schumer (D-N.Y.). “But when a young kid, 12, 14, 16, goes from smoking nothing to electronic cigarettes, that’s a bad thing.”

In New York, high schoolers are the age group most habitually using e-cigarettes, with state Department of Health data indicating they smoke the substance five times more than those 25 and older. Initially, e-cigarettes were largely marketed to smokers interested in quitting.

Juul’s products contain “cigarette-like nicotine levels,” which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states can be highly addictive for nonsmokers and harm brain development in teens.

In March, the FDA proposed banning e-cigarette flavors other than menthol and mint from stores that do not keep such products in a section designated for adults only. The administration also floated the idea of requiring age verification ahead of online pod sales.

Despite these measures not being adopted, Juul said it took steps to curb underage e-smoking, including discontinuing its fruit and crème flavored pods from convenience stores and retailers.

“We share Sen. Schumer’s concern and applaud his efforts as we continue to fight counterfeit and compatible knockoff products that are made with unknown ingredients, under unknown quality and manufacturing standards, and are often sold online without adequate age verification,” Juul spokesman Ted Kwong said in a statement. “We welcome actions from government agencies to help fight this urgent problem that exacerbates youth access and undermines public health.”

Li Yakira Cohen/AM New York