INDIANAPOLIS — What do Game Boys, Minions and popsicles have in common? All of them have been used in the design of e-cigarettes that are part of an FDA crackdown.

On Wednesday, the FDA sent warning letters to five firms for the unauthorized marketing of 15 different e-cigarette products. All of the products were packaged to look like toys, food or cartoon characters.

“The designs of these products are an utterly flagrant attempt to target kids,” said Brian King, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. “It’s a hard sell to suggest that adults using e-cigarettes with the goal of quitting smoking need a cartoon character emblazoned across the front of the product in order to do so successfully.”

The FDA says the design of the unauthorized products includes e-cigarettes that:

  • Are designed to look like toys and youth-appealing electronics like glow sticks, Nintendo Game Boy, and walkie-talkies;
  • Feature youth-appealing characters from TV shows, movies, and video game characters, including “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy,” “Squid Game,” “Rick and Morty,” “Minions” and “Baby Bus;” or
  • Imitate foods like popsicles.

The warning letters notify the companies that selling the products to people in the United States is prohibited. If they fail to correct the violations, they can face additional actions such as an injunction, seizure or civil money penalties.

The FDA found these products particularly concerning because the labeling or advertising are likely to promote the use of e-cigarettes by youth. In the case of the e-cigarettes that look like toys, the FDA is concerned that youth may be able to conceal the nature of the product as a tobacco product from parents, teachers or other adults.

“The FDA is committed to keeping tobacco products out of the hands of our nation’s youth,” said King. “The agency will continue to hold companies accountable for illegally selling e-cigarettes, particularly those that shamelessly target youth.” 

The FDA said it is concerned about the rising youth appeal and dramatic rise in youth use of e-cigarettes. A recent survey found that around one in 10 U.S. middle and high school students reported having used e-cigarettes within the last 30 days, with more than one in four reporting daily use.

Through Oct. 28, the FDA has issued more than 440 warning letters to firms marketing illegal e-cigarettes containing tobacco-derived nicotine, and more than 60 warning letters to firms marketing illegal products containing non-tobacco nicotine.