Tobacco industry giant R.J. Reynolds has filed a U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) complaint, charging multiple manufacturers, distributors and retailers of the most popular disposable vapes with unfair imports. The action follows other Reynolds efforts this year to stem the tide of disposable vapes that compete with its Vuse products.
The ITC has not yet taken action on the complaint. Vaping360 has obtained a copy of the document, which was filed Oct. 13.
Reynolds is asking the ITC to investigate and issue an exclusion order preventing further U.S. imports of the disposable vaping products in question, and to issue a permanent cease and desist order prohibiting the named businesses and their “affiliated companies or divisions” from importing, distributing or selling any of the “accused products.”
“Many of the manufacturers of these disposable vapor devices intentionally and systematically market to youth, selling products with dessert and candy flavors and featuring cartoon characters,” a Reynolds spokesperson told Vaping360. “These illegal disposable vapor devices, which have unknown ingredients and bypass regulations, are jeopardizing public health by refusing to adhere to the laws that regulate the sale of tobacco products.” The spokesperson cited “vapes disguised as highlighters, featuring cartoon characters, or youth appealing flavors like unicorn, bubblegum, and rainbow candy” as evidence of “marketing to youth.”
Should Reynolds succeed at the ITC, the market for flavored vaping products that people like could fully shift from a gray market (products sold in legal retail stores; taxes paid) to an underground black market (fully illegal and unreported).
The businesses named in the complaint—referred to by Reynolds as “peddlers of illegal disposable vapes”—are manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers of Breeze, Elf Bar, Esco Bar, Hyde, Puff Bar, and R&M disposable vapes.
Included among the companies named in the complaint are several well-known U.S. wholesale and retail sellers of disposable vapes, including Element Vape, Flawless Vape, Magellan Technology, Mi-One Brands, Price Point Distributors, and Vape Sourcing.
The ITC complaint accuses the respondents of importing “illegal disposable vapes” in violation of Section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930. Specifically, Reynolds claims the named businesses either falsely advertised that their products are authorized for sale by the government, failed to comply with federal laws imposing registration and reporting requirements and limitations on sales, or violated customs laws and regulations. Some of the respondents are accused of violating the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act, which was amended in 2020 to include vaping products.
R.J. Reynolds owns mass-market vape brand Vuse, which sells the single most popular convenience store vape, the Vuse Alto. Last week, the FDA issued a marketing denial order (MDO), ordering Alto menthol refill pods off the market. The Alto device and tobacco-flavored pods are still under review by the agency. Two older Vuse vapes, the Solo and Vibe models (and their tobacco-flavored refills) are among the six currently sold vape devices authorized by the FDA.
In its complaint, Reynolds claims that, should the agency ban the competition, Reynolds and its Big Tobacco brethren are capable of picking up the slack. “Reynolds has the capacity to replace any increase in demand if the Accused Products were excluded from importation,” says the ITC complaint. “Reynolds is willing to meet any increased demand and can do so in a commercially reasonable time, given that it already supplies the industry with significant quantities of ENDS products, as well as oral tobacco and nicotine products.”
The action is the latest in Reynolds’ campaign to eliminate growing competition from disposable vapes in the convenience store/gas station segment of the vaping products market. Both Reynolds and its parent company British American Tobacco (BAT) have taken extraordinary steps this year to attempt to cripple the upstart vape competitors:
R.J. Reynolds and British American Tobacco still make the bulk of their profits from the sale of combustible cigarettes.
Oct. 20 update
Article updated to include a statement from R.J. Reynolds.