The Food and Drug Administration sent out warning letters on Wednesday in an effort to stop sales of Juul and other e-cigarettes to teens, as use of the device among kids under 18 has reached “an epidemic proportion.”
After undercover operations this summer, the FDA discovered that many national retailers like Walgreens and 7-Eleven are illegally selling Juuls to minors. Under federal law, sales of e-cigarettes to anyone under 18 is prohibited.
“We see clear signs that youth use of electronic cigarettes has reached an epidemic proportion, and we must adjust certain aspects of our comprehensive strategy to stem this clear and present danger,” FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.
The FDA is targeting retailers of e-cigarettes, along with the manufacturers. The agency said that if Juul and four other companies fail to stop the sales to minors, their products will be pulled off shelves. The FDA gave each company 60 days to submit plans for how they will stop youth access to e-cigarettes.
Juuls, which come in several flavors like mango and coconut, are considered highly addictive. While Juuls do not have the same toxins present in cigarettes, they provide a higher dose of nicotine.
Juuls caught on with high school students for their easily concealed size — they look like a flash drive — and the variety of fruit flavors. According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, 11.7 percent of high school students and 3.3 percent of middle school student — over 2.1 million total — reported using an e-cigarette in 2017, though the number is thought to be much higher.
In April, the FDA requested information about Juul’s marketing practices, believing the company purposely targeted minors in advertisements.
A former ad campaign manager for the brand told the New York Times that original Juul marketing campaigns focused on potential customers in their 20s or 30s. When the ads were deemed unsuccessful, the company started using younger models for the ads. They made sure the models were at least 21, but the ads showed a significantly younger demographic enjoying Juuls. In late 2016 or January 2017, the company went back to older models, deciding that they should be at least 35.
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The FDA said they are still focused on ending adult addictions to nicotine, but they need to help kids first.
“We won’t allow the current trends in youth access and use to continue,” Gottlieb said. “We cannot allow a whole new generation to become addicted to nicotine.”