The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a large crackdown on Wednesday, clamping down on the use of e-cigarettes by minors.
In a speech at FDA headquarters, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the agency would also revisit its compliance policy that extended the dates for manufacturers of flavored e-cigarettes to submit applications for premarket authorization. Regulators are considering restricting e-cigarette manufacturers from selling flavored nicotine liquid or forcing the products to undergo an agency review, as reported by CNBC. They also show that the nicotine in e-cigarettes is addictive, and that the other chemicals added as part of the flavoring might be harmful.
As of 2017, more than two million high school-age Americans used e-cigarettes, a trend that represents a historic uptake of nicotine products, the FDA said.
The agency is giving e-cigarette companies 60 days to come up with a plan for reducing use of their products among minors.
State health department officials continue to be anxious about JUUL, a device that looks like a flash drive, which they say dominates more than 70 percent of the e-cigarette market. "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", Juul spokesperson Victoria Davis said in a statement provided to TIME.
Investors in Juul's competitors appeared to welcome the FDA announcement.
"I believe certain flavors are one of the principal drivers of the youth appeal of these products", Gottlieb said. "Juul is a product for adult smokers".
The commissioner has repeatedly agreed that e-cigarettes can be an effective tool for adults trying to quit smoking, so his harsh words for the industry on Wednesday were all the more remarkable.
MarkTen's flavors, for example, include "menthol", "classic", and "summer blend", while Juul's flavors have included "fruit medley" and "creme brulee", recently shortened to "fruit" and "creme".
Gottlieb said that e-cigarette manufacturers have been given ample time to change their ways. The agency issued 12 warning letters to companies that it says have deceptive marketing labels on e-liquids. "The FDA won't tolerate a whole generation of young people becoming addicted to nicotine as a tradeoff for enabling adults to have unfettered access to these same products".
Traders said proposed FDA action was less harsh than feared. But spokeswoman Victoria Davis said "appropriate flavors play an important role in helping adult smokers switch".
Last year, the FDA announced that it would delay regulations that could have halted the sales of many e-cigarettes. Since past year, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb and other federal officials have discussed e-cigarettes as a potential tool to ween adult smokers off cigarettes, although that benefit hasn't been proven.
Imperial Brands unit Fontem Ventures said it would work to further strengthen youth access prevention policies and procedures.
"There is no question that a lot of the youth use is being driven by Juul", Gottlieb said.
Logic Technology Development, owned by Japan Tobacco Inc, said it will demonstrate to the FDA "that Logic markets its products only to adults".
The FDA also warned e-cigarette companies that they have 60 days to show they can keep their products away from kids or risk being taken off store shelves. Earlier this year, as criticism of the company mounted, it committed $30 million over the next three years for independent research, youth and parent education and community engagement.
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