The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is considering taking drastic action against the companies that manufacture and sell e-cigarettes, citing an epidemic of teen use.
“I’ve been warning the e-cigarette industry for more than a year that they needed to do much more to stem the youth trends,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., said in a statement dated September 12th.
“In my view, they treated these issues like a public relations challenge rather than seriously considering their legal obligations, the public health mandate, and the existential threat to these products.”
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a flavored, nicotine-containing liquid into vapors that are inhaled. They have become a ubiquitous presence at schools throughout the United States, and their popularity among teenagers has alarmed public health experts.
While e-cigarettes may be a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, they still expose users to highly-addictive nicotine. What’s more, nicotine exposure in childhood and adolescence has been shown to harm the developing brain.
Despite these concerns, e-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among middle- and high-school students, according to the 2017 National Youth Tobacco Survey. About 2.1 million students reported using electronic cigarettes, compared with 1.4 million who smoked traditional cigarettes.
On Wednesday, the FDA announced it had sent warning letters to the manufacturers of popular vaping devices, including JUUL, R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co.’s Vuse, Altria Group’s MarkTen, Imperial Brands’s blu, and Japan Tobacco’s Logic devices.
The companies have 60 days to formulate a strategy for making their products less appealing to minors.
The agency also warned more than 1,000 retailers – including 7-Eleven stores, Shell gas stations, and Walgreens – to stop illegally selling e-cigarettes to children.
And it issued 131 fines to stores that allegedly violated the restriction on sales to minors.
The FDA even took the unusual step of threatening to ban e-cigarette sales if the companies fail take adequate steps to keep their products away from children.
“The FDA won’t tolerate a whole generation of young people becoming addicted to nicotine as a trade-off for enabling adults to have unfettered access to these same products.” Gottleib said.
Critics of the e-cigarette industry applauded the FDA’s actions, but maintained that more needs to be done.
“The FDA has taken to heart what public health advocates, parents, educators and youth have been saying for months about this crisis. This epidemic is particularly troubling given the high addiction potential that products like JUUL present to youth,” Robin Koval, president and CEO of the Truth Initiative.
“However, an epidemic requires urgent and serious action, and the FDA must not cede its authority to the industry. Asking the tobacco industry to come up with solutions is the proverbial case of asking the fox to guard the hen house.”