Tobacco giant Altria will stop selling e-cigarette “pods” and will pull almost all its flavored products from the market in an attempt to help curb teen vaping, it announced Thursday.
The company, which manufactures Marlboro and Virginia Slim cigarettes, also said it supports federal legislation to raise the legal smoking age to 21.
The agency launched a campaign earlier this year aimed at combating teenagers' use of vaping products. In September, the FDA ordered five of the largest e-cigarette manufacturers — including Juul and Altria — to submit plans on reducing teen use within 60 days.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb threatened a possible ban on flavored e-liquids if those manufacturers can’t come up with adequate plans to help keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of those under the age of 18.
In a response to FDA, Altria’s CEO Howard Williard III said electronic cigarettes represent an “important opportunity” for adult smokers to switch from traditional cigarettes. He added he shares the agency’s concerns about an “epidemic” of teen vaping, and that kids should not be using tobacco products.
“The current situation with youth use of e-vapor products, left unchecked, has the potential to undermine that opportunity for adult smokers,” Willard said in a letter to Gottlieb.
Willard said Altria will remove its MarkTen pod-based based products and will stop selling all flavors, except for menthol or tobacco, in its "cig-a-like" products until the FDA reviews and approves them.
The FDA said in a statement in response to Altria's announcement it "appreciates any voluntary steps companies can take to address the youth access and appeal of e-cigarettes." The agency added it "will be taking additional action very soon ... all policy options are on the table."
The decision to remove certain flavors and products could put pressure on its competitors to follow suit. E-cigarettes only comprise a fraction of Altria’s sales, so they have much less to lose than a company like Juul, which only makes e-cigarettes.
Willard said that even though he thinks Altria doesn’t have a problem with youth using their pod-based products, they are still taking them off the market out of an abundance of caution.
“Although we do not believe we have a current issue with youth access to or use of our pod-based products, we do not want to risk contributing to the issue,” Willard wrote.