Under Pressure, FDA Cracks Down On Sale Of E-Cigs To Teens

The Food and Drug Administration yesterday announced a crackdown on the sale of Juul e-cigarettes and similar products to minors, including what it says is has been “large-scale, undercover nationwide blitz” of both online and brick-and-mortar retailers who sell them. 

“The FDA said it warned 40 stores about selling the product to children under 18 and said it had persuaded eBay to control listings. The agency asked the makers of Juul to turn over marketing research and other documents to help explain why the product has so quickly taken off with teens,” writes Maggie Fox for NBCNews.

“Juul and other e-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that turn nicotine-containing liquid into vapor that can be inhaled. A Juul could be mistaken for a USB flash drive and has exploded in popularity with teens and young adults. Other brands of e-cigarettes are called MyBlu, KandyPens, and Suorin,” writes Theresa Tamkins for BuzzFeed News



“The Juul liquid’s 5% nicotine concentration is significantly higher than that of most other commercially available e-cigarettes. Juul flavors include ‘Creme Brulee’ and ‘Fruit Medley,’ which critics have said make it more attractive to minors,” write Saabira Chaudhuri and Anne Marie Chaker for the Wall Street Journal.

“Juul has become a teen status symbol and a growing problem in U.S. schools. In recent months, Juul Labs has captured close to half the estimated $2 billion e-cigarette category, according to a Wells Fargo analysis of Nielsen sales data,” Chaudhuri and Chaker continue.

“As we work to keep kids from making the deadly progression from experimentation to regular cigarette use, it’s imperative that we also make sure children and teenagers aren’t getting hooked on more novel nicotine-delivery products,” the FDA’s release about the “new actions and efforts” proclaims.

For its part, Juul Labs yesterday announced it will actively support initiatives to raise the minimum age to 21+ to purchase tobacco products as part of $30 million it is spending over the next three years “dedicated to independent research, youth and parent education, and community engagement efforts.”

FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, a physician and FDA veteran who served on President Donald Trump’s transition team, has been feeling heat about the issue recently.

“The announcement about the crackdown came a week after health organizations and lawmakers urged the FDA to be more aggressive in discouraging e-cigarette use among minors. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Truth Initiative, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association and American Lung Association sent a letter to Gottlieb warning that progress against smoking is ‘at serious risk of being reversed’ because of the agency's failure to take action against products that appeal to youth,” reports Laurie McGinley for the Washington Post

“Separately, a group of 11 Democratic senators, led by Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, complained to Gottlieb and Juul Labs chief executive Kevin Burns about youth use of the product,” McGinley writes.

“The most unusual part of today’s announcement is that the FDA has sent an official request for documents to San Francisco-based Juul Labs. The FDA wants to know what kind of research the company has on how kids might use their product, including whether certain product design features of the USB-charged device appeal to youth and whether different ingredients might be aimed at kids,” Matt Novak writes for Gizmodo

“Traditional tobacco companies like Brown & Williamson infamously considered adding flavors like honey and Coca-Cola to cigarettes in order to explicitly appeal to teenagers,” Novak continues.

Indeed, “it’s a well-known fact that teenagers like sweet products. Honey might be considered,” is a line from a 1972 memo from a consultant to Brown & Williamson in a chilling nine-page compendium — “Tobacco Industry Quotes on Nicotine Addiction” — published on SWAT, a section of the Oklahoma state website described as its “youth movement to expose Big Tobacco's lies and deceptive practices.”

Yes, Oklahoma — a state dominated by Republican politicians and where “according to Oklahoma Ethics Commission records, tobacco companies or their trade associations have registered 14 lobbyists … this year,” according to an article by D. Robert McCaffree, M.D. on the NewsOK website.  In fact, “over the next several months, the Oklahoma Tobacco Research Center will release a series of reports summarizing internal tobacco industry documents that tell the story — in the words of tobacco company executives and their lobbyists — of a highly successful 50-year campaign to influence Oklahoma laws,” McCaffree writes.

The SWAT collection concludes with this observation from “The Decline in the Rate of Growth of Marlboro Red,” a 1975 Philip Morris memo: “The teenage years are also important because those are the years during which most smokers begin to smoke, the years in which initial brand selections are made, and the period in the life cycle in which conformity to peer group norms is greatest.”

For all their “valuing of individualism,” as a recent book by psychologist Jean Twenge would have it, I suspect that’s still true for iGens.

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