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FDA Announces New Steps to Crack Down on Sale of E-Cigarettes to Minors

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In December 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that electronic cigarettes had become the most commonly used tobacco product among U.S. youths. In 2015, about 5.3 percent of middle school students and 16 percent of high school students reported they’d used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days.

This is highly concerning not only because of the serious side effects of nicotine on the development of young brains, but because of the potential health effects associated with the other chemicals used in the nicotine solutions.

Meanwhile, some stores are selling these products to kids without properly checking for identification. In April 2018, the FDA released a statement noting that they were citing 40 retailers for violations related to youth sales of e-cigarettes and that they were taking new steps to protect the nation’s youth from the dangers in these products.

FDA Recently Gained Regulatory Authority on E-Cigarettes

The statement came from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. He noted that as part of a comprehensive plan first announced in July 2017, the FDA was “pursuing a policy to prevent future generations from becoming addicted in the first place by rendering cigarettes minimally or non-addictive.”

Only since August 2016 have e-cigarettes come under the FDA’s regulation. Since then, e-cigarettes have been subject to regulatory controls under the Tobacco Control Act. The FDA now has the authority to regulate e-cigarettes the same way as regular cigarettes and other tobacco products.

As a result, the FDA is requiring all manufacturers to go through the approval process for e-cigarette products released as far back as 2007. They recently gave manufacturers more time to complete this process, however, delaying any required safety updates on the products until 2022.

Meanwhile, companies are continuing business as usual, which includes fashioning e-cigarettes in fancy colors and flavors that appeal to young people. The FDA is responding by taking several new actions aimed at keeping kids from getting addicted.

FDA Announces New Regulatory Steps

Because so-called JUUL e-cigarettes have become increasingly popular among teens—thought to be because of their discreet USB-flash-drive shape and their high levels of nicotine—the FDA is moving forward with a series of new enforcement and regulatory steps, including the following:

  • A large-scale, undercover nationwide blitz to crack down on the sale of e-cigarettes, particularly JUUL products, to minors at brick-and-mortar stores. The FDA notes that the blitz “has already revealed numerous violations of the law.” The FDA has released 40 warning letters so far to stores who violated the rules.
  • A joint effort with eBay to remove listings for JUUL products on its website. The site has promised to implement new measures to prevent new listings from being posted.
  • Direct-to-manufacture communications to discover why teens find these products so appealing and discover ways to address that appeal. As part of this effort, the FDA sent an official request to JUUL Labs, requiring them to submit documents to help the FDA better understand the high rate of usage among youths.
  • Additional enforcement actions focused on companies believed to be marketing the products in ways that are misleading to kids.

The FDA plans to announce additional steps in the coming months, with Gottlieb noting that he hopes “this sends a clear message to all tobacco product manufacturers and retailers that the FDA is taking on this issue with urgency, and if kids are flocking to your product or you’re illegally selling these products to kids, you’re on the agency’s radar.”

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