FDA launches crackdown on marketing e-cigarettes to kids

e-cig photoPhoto via Pixabay

Defends of electronic cigarettes say they’re an important tool to help adults break their nicotine habit. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that the use of electronic tobacco products by teens hit “epidemic proportions” and the agency today announced a massive crackdown on marketers who target teens.

More than 1,300 warning letters and fines have been issued to retailers who illegally sold e-cigs to teens during “a nationwide, undercover blitz of brick-and-mortar and online stores: over the summer. The enforcement blitz is just the kickoff of what FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., says will be a much more aggressive push to curtail retail e-cig sales to minors, including possible restrictions on certain flavored products.

“I believe certain flavors are one of the principal drivers of the youth appeal of these products,” Gottlieb said in prepared remarks. “While we remain committed to advancing policies that promote the potential of e-cigarettes to help adult smokers move away from combustible cigarettes, that work can’t come at the expense of kids. We cannot allow a whole new generation to become addicted to nicotine.”

One aspect of the agency’s plan will entail increased enforcement. The more than 1,300 warning letters and fines to retailers announced today were part of a large-scale, undercover nationwide blitz to crack down on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors at both brick-and-mortar and online retailers, which was conducted from June through the end of August. The vast majority of the violations were for the illegal sale of five e-cigarette products – Vuse, Blu, JUUL, MarkTen XL, and Logic. These five brands currently comprise over 97 percent of the U.S. market for e-cigarettes.

Besides the 1,300 letters and citations, today the FDA issued 12 warning letters to other online retailers that are selling misleadingly labeled and/or advertised e-liquids resembling kid-friendly food products such as candy and cookies. The FDA had previously issued more than 60 warning letters and fines to businesses that sold JUUL brand products to minors stemming from another enforcement blitz this past spring.

The FDA also continues to conduct checks of retail establishments that sell tobacco products to ensure compliance with federal laws. In total, the FDA has conducted 978,290 retail inspections, issued 77,180 warning letters to retailers for violating the law and initiated approximately 18,560 civil money penalty cases, as of Sept. 1, 2018. There is a clear need for strong federal enforcement of youth access restrictions and the FDA will continue to hold retailers accountable by vigorously enforcing the law with the help of the agency’s state partners, Gottlieb said.


About the Author

Truman Lewis
Truman has been a bureau chief and correspondent in D.C., Los Angeles, Phoenix and elsewhere, reporting for radio, television, print and news services, for more than 30 years. Most recently, he has reported extensively on health and consumer issues for ConsumerAffairs.com and FairfaxNews.com.