China’s Elf Bar Flooded Western Markets With Sweet Flavored Vapes

Dec9,2023 #vape #vaping

A Chinese vaping tycoon conquered global markets by exploiting regulatory loopholes with fruity disposable e-cigarettes triggering youth addiction fears.

Shenzhen-based Zhang Shengwei crafted vaping leader Heaven Gifts from a small export startup into a disposables giant competing with major tobacco brands internationally. However, the popularity of its candy-esque flavors among adolescents stirred controversy.

By ignoring oversight gaps in Western countries while preempting China’s domestic ban, Zhang capitalized on demand for compact vapes like market dominating Elf Bar. But critics argue such accessible nicotine risks normalizing life-long dependency among novices.

15 Years Of Regulatory Arbitrage To Top Industry

The 50-year-old built his vaping domain expertise through the distribution and manufacturing ecosystem in Shenzhen, known as “Vape Valley.” Zhang started as an exporter for early innovators like Ruyan before found Heaven Gifts in 2007 to service small retailers lacking official partnerships.

He invested heavily into the supply chain as an experienced insider able to foresee trends. This allowed agilely launching own-brand devices when disposables boomed. As a result, Zhang grew talent and production capacity outpacing struggling competitors focused elsewhere.

When China prohibited domestic flavored vape sales in 2021, he avoided collapse by exclusivity exporting abroad. Sales abroad boomed with adults but also controversially attracted youth. Reacting faster than overseas regulators, Zhang secured first-mover advantage.

“Flavored e-cigarettes shouldn’t be demonized as they help smokers quit. But we take youth concerns seriously and are changing flavors and packaging,” said company spokesperson Jacques Li.

Sweetened Vapes Reach Record FDA Application Backlog

In the US, Zhang capitalized on FDA bureaucracy struggling with existing application backlogs. Elf Bar disposables entered devoid of approval amid objections that flavors manipulate kids. Industry giants like Juul waiting in regulatory purgatory cite disregard for rules.

“These illegal products target youth and continue pouring across borders as the FDA has inadequate enforcement,” complained British American Tobacco, whose Vuse brand trails Elf Bar. But with no domestic penalties available, US sales of Heaven Gifts brands surpassed authorized alternatives nearly threefold.

By mining oversight gaps, Zhang positioned Elf Bar as the nation’s preferred teen vape while companies diligently submitting applications helplessly watched. Policy experts say such brazen noncompliance creates an unleveled business environment undermining public safety roles.

UK Success Follows Distribution Strategy And Youth Access Rules

A distribution foothold in Britain enabled rapidly dominating disposables once youth-centered regulations focused on nicotine concentrations over flavors emerged. With limits instead of prohibitions, Zhang ensured compliant disposables offering enough to transition some adult smokers.

Consequently, vaping doubled among UK 11-17 year olds as Elf Bar surged on candy-inspired variants like Blue Cotton Candy. “Manufacturers aren’t taking seriously these products’ appeal under-18s,” said Hazel Cheeseman of tobacco control group ASH regarding accessory-like vape sticks.

Amid regulatory consultations urged ending design and ingredient temptations, Elf Bar preemptively axed certain flavors. Supporter arguments that adult quitting relies on reproducing smoking’s sensations contrast concerns hooking non-smoking youth on nicotine minus harm reduction benefits.

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