- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2018

An undercover crackdown on the sale of a popular brand of e-cigarettes to minors revealed numerous violations, the Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said his agency issued 40 warning letters to brick-and-mortar and online retailers related to Juul products, an alternative to combustible cigarettes that vaporizes nicotine in liquid.

He said the crackdown began April 6 and will continue through the end of the month.

Investigators have targeted 7-Eleven locations, Shell gas stations and Cumberland Farms convenience stores as well as vaping shops.

The FDA singled out Juul products because they resemble a USB flash drive and produce emissions that are hard to notice. Juul has become popular with some teenagers as a discreet way to vape at school and in public. Parents, teachers and principals say they are struggling to control the booming trend.

“These characteristics may facilitate youth use, by making the products more attractive to children and teens.” Dr. Gottlieb said. “These products are also more difficult for parents and teachers to recognize or detect.”

Like other e-cigarettes, Juul is an electronic device that turns liquid — usually containing nicotine — into an inhalable vapor.

Lawmakers have been pressuring the FDA to take a harder look at the role of vaporizers and electronic cigarettes, as the U.S. slashes smoking rates.

The agency said alternatives products may help some adults make less risky choices than traditional cigarettes, “but we’ve got to step in to protect our kids.”

“This isn’t the first time we’ve taken action against retailers for selling these e-cigarettes and other tobacco products to minors, and it won’t be the last,” Dr. Gottlieb said.

The FDA asked Juul to turn over documents related to its marketing tactics, how its product affects health and any research it’s done on use among young people.

Regulators also alerted eBay about listing for the products, and praised the online auction site for taking them down.

Juul says minors should not use any nicotine product, including their own.

“Juul Labs agrees with the FDA that illegal sales of our product to minors is unacceptable,” the company said Tuesday. “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. We are working with the FDA, lawmakers, parents and community leaders to combat underage use, and we will continue working with all interested parties to keep our product away from youth.”

E-cigarettes have grown into a $4 billion industry in the U.S. 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.

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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