SILVER SPRING, Md. – After a previously announced promise to tackle the growing use of electronic cigarettes by underage teenagers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has revealed a four-stage enforcement and inquiry effort to better understand the issue and crack down on the illegal sale of the devices to minors, officials announced.
Part of that effort was a self-described “blitz” that sent FDA officials into retail establishments to uncover illegal sales of e-cigarettes to minors. While that operation officially began April 6, Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Silver Spring, Md.-based FDA, said the agency has issued warning letters to 40 retail locations since March of this year. Most of those were convenience stores, including five 7-Elevens, four Circle K sites, three Cumberland Farms locations and one Sheetz store, according to the FDA document.
“Protecting our nation’s youth from the dangers of tobacco products is among the most important responsibilities of the [FDA]—and it’s an obligation I take personally,” Gottlieb said in a statement the FDA issued April 24. “We recognize that if the FDA is to end the tragic cycle of successive generations of nicotine and tobacco addiction, we must take every opportunity to disrupt that process where it starts: youth access to and use of tobacco products.”
Here are the steps Gottlieb announced:
- FDA officials have been conducting a nationwide undercover “blitz” to crack down on the sale of e-cigarettes—specifically Juul-branded products from San Francisco-based Juul Labs—to minors at both brick-and-mortar and online retailers. The effort officially started April 6 and will continue through the end of the month. Gottlieb said the crackdown has already revealed “numerous violations” of the law and provided a list of 40 retailers who have been sent warning letters since March.
- The FDA contacted San Jose, Calif.-based eBay to raise concerns over several listings for Juul products on its website. “We’re thankful for eBay’s swift action to remove the listings and voluntarily implement new measures to prevent new listings from being posted to the web retailer’s site,” Gottlieb said.
- The agency is contacting manufacturers directly and will hold them accountable, Gottlieb said. “We need to examine all the available information to understand why kids are finding these products so appealing and address it,” he said. Part of that initiative included an official request from the FDA for information directly to Juul Labs, requiring the company to submit documents to better understand the reportedly high rates of youth use and the youth appeal of these products, he said. The agency plans to send similar letters to other manufacturers, and companies that don’t comply will be in violation of the law and subject to enforcement, he said.
- The FDA will take additional enforcement actions focused on companies that it thinks are marketing products in ways that are misleading to underage consumers. Gottlieb said he would elaborate in the coming weeks.