Customs officials on Tuesday seized 77,400 vaping devices branded with names and images from the popular Rick and Morty cartoon. The products were found during inspections at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, and were destined for a Georgia distributor.
While examining two shipments of 258 boxes from Shenzhen, China, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers “found popular cartoon characters on the vape pen packaging and suspected the vape pens violated copyright and trademark laws,” according to a CBP press release. The agency then contacted Warner Bros. Entertainment to verify that the company’s copyright was being infringed by the Chinese products.
“Often CBP seizes vape pens because they violate FDA guidelines, but these parcels violate copyright laws which adds to the charges and complexity of the case,” said Area Port Director Shane Campbell. “Counterfeit products are unsafe for consumers, harm the economy, damage the revenue and image of the companies, and could cost American jobs.”
Customs officials seem to believe there is such a thing as legitimate Rick and Morty vapes. In their statement, CBP says, “If the pens were real, the MSRP for the pens would have been worth $1.55 million.”
Of course, there are no “real” Rick and Morty vape pens. The devices are novelty products meant to cash in on two pop culture hits: disposable vapes and the popular Adult Swim cartoon Rick and Morty. Both are aimed at a college-aged demographic, and are typically sold online, in convenience stores, and even in some vape shops.
A Google search shows dozens of fly-by-night websites that sell the cartoon vapes at both wholesale and retail, along with other disposables and aftermarket pods for popular vapes like the JUUL. Product appearance varies by seller, and the marketing material often includes misspelled words (see images). While new shipping restrictions imposed by Congress will destroy or damage much of the legitimate vaping industry, these companies will probably continue to sell illegal products and ship them in violation of the PACT Act.
Customs has had its hands full policing imports of illegal vaping products since the FDA’s early 2020 crackdown on flavored pod- and cartridge-based vapes. Each time the FDA and other agencies take action against legal products like JUUL, gray market devices like Puff Bar and various no-name disposable vapes and “JUUL-compatible” pods appear to fill the gap.
In January, customs inspectors at O’Hare seized 50,000 vaping devices. Last October, CBP officials seized 86,000 disposable vapes in Allentown, Pennsylvania. And between June and August last year, customs agents in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh seized 48 separate shipments of illegal vaping products—all pods or disposables.
Featured image courtesy YouTube.