The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday issued a dire warning to Juul and four other manufacturers of popular e-cigarettes, giving the companies 60 days to submit plans showing how they will do a better job keeping the devices out of minors’ hands.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement his agency has seen “clear signs” that use of vaping devices has reached an “epidemic proportion.” Of specific concern are tobacco products flavored to resemble “kid-friendly” foods, the agency said.
The FDA specifically targeted Vuse, Blu, Juul, MarkTen XL and Logic devices, which together represent the vast majority of the U.S. e-cigarette market. If the brands fail to comply with the order, the FDA may order their products taken off shelves.
Although vaping exposes users to far fewer toxic chemicals than traditional cigarettes, the addictive component used in such devices ― nicotine ― is present in greater amounts. Juul, a product so popular it became a verb, offers nicotine pods with flavors such as mint, mango, cucumber and creme brulee.
E-cigarette advocates argue that the flavors help adult smokers switch to the electronic alternative.
While e-cigarettes have proven to be a means of weaning adults away from traditional cigarettes, the devices’ popularity among teens has spiked, introducing a new generation of young people to nicotine.
In its sweeping declaration, the FDA stated that it “won’t allow the current trends in youth access and use to continue, even if it means putting limits in place that reduce adult uptake of these products.”
“It’s an unfortunate trade-off,” Gottlieb told The New York Times.
The agency has already issued 1,300 warnings and fines to retailers it says have sold the vaping devices to minors, including 7-Eleven, Circle K and Walgreens stores, and shops at Shell and Mobil gas stations. Fines imposed on some locations ranged from approximately $280 to $11,200.
The regulator’s so-called enforcement blitz was conducted from June through August and targeted both brick-and-mortar and online stores. Gottlieb said it was the largest such effort in the FDA’s history.
More than 2 million middle school and high school students used e-cigarettes in 2017, the agency said.
Juul was quick to express support for the government’s action on Wednesday.
“We are committed to preventing underage use of our product, and we want to be part of the solution in keeping e-cigarettes out of the hands of young people,” the company said in a statement.
Efforts to curtail the products’ availability to teens could mean the companies cut off sales to retailers with a history of selling to minors. The FDA also suggested eliminating online sales entirely, or removing the flavored products until they are vetted by the agency.
The crackdown on e-cigarettes comes more than a year after the FDA announced a new plan to combat tobacco-related deaths in the U.S., which stand at 480,000 annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This article has been updated to note comments by Blu and MarkTen.