Federal health officials are cracking down on underage use of a popular e-cigarette brand following months of complaints from parents, politicians and school administrators.
Abut 36 percent of high school seniors have tried vaping at least once, and many say that particularly slim Juul devices make it easy to get away with doing it in class.
Research on e-cigarettes is still nascent, but a growing body of evidence suggests they are not without their health risks – including acting as a possible gateway to cigarette smoking.
The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday it has issued warnings to 40 retail and online stores as part of a nationwide operation against illegal sales of Juul to children.
The FDA is cracking down on the discrete Juul e-cigs favored by teenagers to vape in class
FDA regulators also are asking manufacturer Juul Labs to turn over documents about the design, marketing and ingredients of its devices.
The rare request particularly focuses on whether certain product features are directly appealing to young people.
Like other e-cigarettes, Juul is an electronic device that turns liquid – usually containing nicotine – into an inhalable vapor.
Thanks in part to its resemblance to a small computer flash drive, Juul has become popular with some teenagers as a discreet way to vape at school and in public.
Health advocates have worried about the popularity of vaping products among kids and the potential impact on adult smoking rates in the future.
A recent government-commissioned report found ‘substantial evidence’ that young people who use e-cigarettes are more likely to try cigarettes.
Recent research indicates that many do not even know that they are starting a nicotine habit when they use a Juul.
A 2016 survey found that 63 percent of people between 15 and 24 who used a Juul did not realize that all of the companies devices contain addictive nicotine.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the agency plans additional actions against the company, and others, in coming weeks.
‘This isn’t the only product that we’re looking at, and this isn’t the only action we’re going to be taking to target youth access to tobacco products, and e-cigarettes, in particular,’ Gottlieb said in an interview.
Juul sales have exploded over the past two years and the brand now accounts for 55 percent of the US market for e-cigarettes, according to industry figures. That’s up from just five percent of the market in 2016.
WHAT PARENTS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT E-CIGARETTES
How they work:
E-cigarettes use a mixture of flavored liquids and nicotine to create a vapor.
This vapor is then inhaled by the user similarly to how one would smoke a regular cigarette.
Are these devices safe?
Since these devices don’t use traditional smoke, people are under the assumption that they are safe for you.
But the liquid in the e-cigarettes can contain harmful toxins and carcinogens including anti-freeze.
The nicotine in the e-cigarettes also had addictive components and can lead to other tobacco use. This can hinder brain development in teens.
Also, the devices can overheat and explode if defective.
The Food and Drug Administration does not certify e-cigarettes as a product to get over smoking regular cigarettes.
The San Francisco-based company said in a statement it agrees with the FDA that underage use of its products is ‘unacceptable.’
‘We already have in place programs to identify and act upon these violations at retail and online marketplaces, and we will have more aggressive plans to announce in the coming days,’ the statement read.
Juul Labs says it monitors retailers to ensure they are following the law. Its age verification system searches public records and sometimes requires customers to upload a photo ID.
But Robin Koval, CEO and President of the anti-tobacco organization Truth Initiative thinks that teens taking to Juul should have been no surprise to the company.
‘It is no wonder that JUUL e-cigarettes have rapidly caught on with youth – they look like a sleek USB flash drive, are easily concealed, and come in youth appealing flavors like mint, mango and crème brulee,’ she said.
‘Unfortunately, young people are unaware that JUUL packs a powerful nicotine punch with a single cartridge equal to an entire pack of cigarettes,’ she added.
‘This escalates the urgency for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation and public education regarding the risks for young people.’
E-cigarettes have grown into a $4 billion industry in the US despite little research on their long-term effects, including whether they are helpful in helping smokers quit cigarettes.
That’s the sales pitch made by Juul and many other e-cigarette manufacturers: ‘Juul delivers nicotine satisfaction akin to a cigarette in a format that’s as simple and easy to use,’ states the company’s website. A Juul ‘starter kit’ can be ordered online for $49.99. The company’s website is intended to only sell to customers ages 21 and up.
The FDA gained authority to regulate e-cigarettes in 2016, but anti-smoking advocates have criticized the agency for not policing the space more aggressively to stop companies from appealing to underage users, particularly with flavors like mango, cool cucumber and crème brulee.
‘These are very positive steps and demonstrate that FDA recognizes the problem of youth use is very serious,’ said Matthew Myers, of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. ‘But they don’t address the biggest issue that the FDA is not been enforcing its own rules.’
Myers’ group contends that Juul and several other e-cigarette companies have recently launched new flavors and varieties without seeking FDA authorization. That step is mandatory under the FDA regulations put in place summer of 2016.