The FDA had touted its progress cracking down on illegal, fruit-flavored e-cigarettes that appeal to kids. Exclusive data obtained by AP Health Writer Matt Perrone exposed the truth: The number of e-cigarettes on the market has exploded in recent years, a surge driven almost entirely by disposable e-cigarettes imported from China. Perrone’s reporting quantified for the first time what had previously only been anecdotally reported: that more kid-appealing vapes have been appearing in U.S. convenience stores.
Beyond breaking this news, Perrone’s reporting showed how a series of regulatory failures gave rise to current market chaos, starting with a flawed crackdown on Juul, and broke a number of firsts on this highly competitive story. Among them: The former head of FDA’s tobacco unit told Perrone that a political decision by the Trump administration gave rise to a loophole that allowed cheaper disposables to pour in.
Perrone also used the FDA’s public database to show that U.S. inspectors have only visited two Chinese vaping factories. The package was expected to require several months of reporting. But when Perrone learned in mid-June that Reuters was pursuing a similar data-driven story, he set and met an aggressive timeline to complete the story in less than two weeks.