Senate Chairmen Warning to C-Store and Wholesaler Chiefs to Halt Sales of Illicit Flavored Vaping Products

U.S. Senate Panels Alert Convenience Store and Wholesaler Companies of 'Widespread Violations of Federal Law' Involving Flavored Vaping Products

Five key Senate committee chairmen expressed significant concerns in letters sent to the chief executives of seven major convenience store and wholesaler companies, warning them to cease and desist sales of illicit flavored vaping products, which they assert are in violation of federal law. The letters come amidst a uptick in lung injuries and deaths caused by vaping products.

The senators, who chair committees with jurisdiction over public health and consumer protection issues, expressed their concern over the ubiquity of these products, especially in convenience stores, and their potential for harm. They argued that such products are hooking a new generation of children onto nicotine, damaging public health, and undermining public health efforts to combat tobacco use and addiction.

The chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Richard Burr (R-NC), joined forces with the chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Chuck Grassley (R-IA), as well as the chairmen of the Senate Finance Committee, Ron Wyden (D-OR); the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Gary Peters (D-MI); and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, Maria Cantwell (D-WA), in addressing the CEOs of the companies.

The letters sent to the CEOs of 7-Eleven, Circle K, Walmart, Kroger, Costco, Albertsons, and BP Americas (AMP) headquarters, sought responses to a range of questions regarding their efforts to ensure that their stores are not selling illicit flavored vaping products, including enforcement of age-verification mechanisms, the extent of their mandatory checks and scans for illegal products, and their training programs and oversight of third-party vendors.

The senators also queried the companies about their awareness of and specific responses to the growing evidence that illegal flavored vaping products, particularly those obtained online or from unregulated vendors, were linked to serious health risks and fatal injuries. The letters asserted that a variety of federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, have determined that a wide range of vaping products, including flavored e-cigarettes, are unregulated, misbranded, and illegal under federal law.

The letters emphasized that as the companies are well aware, the sale of unauthorized flavored vaping products is not only a violation of federal law but also a public health emergency, given the risk of injury and death they pose to teens and consumers. The senators further indicated that the companies' failure to take swift and adequate action to address this problem may constitute “willful disregard” for the law, which could result in criminal liability.

The chairmen also warned the retail and wholesale executives that failing to comply with federal law would bring serious consequences, including possible criminal referral, for which the committees’ staffs would investigate and vigorously pursue appropriate enforcement actions, including through litigation. The letters gave the companies until Friday, December 6, 2019, to describe in detail their specific plans for ensuring that their stores would cease the sale of illicit flavored vaping products.

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