FDA Speaks With E-Cig Makers

Agency, manufacturers discuss kid-appealing flavors, as well as raising the tobacco-purchase age
Photograph: Shutterstock

WASHINGTON -- The commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said he has met with five electronic-cigarette manufacturers, characterizing the discussions as constructive and thoughtful.

Since calling for feedback in September from the top five e-cigarette makers—Altria Group Inc., Richmond, Va.; Fontem Ventures, Charlotte, N.C.; Japan Tobacco International (JTI) USA, Teaneck, N.J.; Juul Labs, San Francisco; and Reynolds American Inc., Winston-Salem, N.C.—Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a release that all five companies had "thoughtful proposals" for combating teenage use of their products and that the discussions were "constructive."

Some of the companies stated explicitly that preventing youth use must be a priority and that any potential benefits of e-cigarettes for adult smokers cannot justify significant increases in youth use and addiction, Gottlieb said.

“The companies acknowledged the role that flavored e-cigarette products play in appealing to kids, as well as the role that flavored e-cigarettes can also play in helping adult smokers quit,” Gottlieb said. “On this point, their proposals at the meetings reflected a range of ideas. For instance, that the FDA restrict distribution of certain flavored products to channels with enhanced age-verification processes. Or that the agency require certain products that are more appealing to kids to come off the market until these products receive premarket authorization from the agency.”

He said the companies also acknowledged the power of social sourcing of tobacco products—in other words, of-age purchasers sharing or selling products to underage friends—in contributing to youth tobacco use. “To address this issue, some companies said that they would support raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21 years of age,” Gottlieb said.

Companies also described their current actions to promote retailer compliance with age- and identification-verification requirements, and they committed to providing more information in their written submissions to the agency, he said.

Many manufacturers issued official reactions soon after the FDA’s actions in September, which included the inquiries to e-cigarette makers and the issuance of warning letters to 1,300 retailers who were alleged to have sold tobacco products to covert FDA operatives.

One of those manufacturers, Altria, has went so far as to pull certain e-cigarette products, as well as call for the increase in the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.

“These have been useful dialogues,” Gottlieb said. “We welcome the feedback and proposals to address the youth epidemic, which will help inform the FDA’s consideration of policy approaches.”

Gottlieb also said the agency plans to announce new initiatives in November toward reducing teen use of e-cigarettes, saying those efforts would “firmly confront and reverse the youth addiction trends that are at epidemic levels.”

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