FDA threatens to pull e-cigarettes off the market

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that e-cigarettes face an uncertain future in U.S. markets unless youth smoking rates drop over the next year.

Speaking at a public hearing Friday in Silver Spring, Md., FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said he could see the entire category of e-cigarette and vaping products removed from store shelves if companies don’t stop marketing such products to youth. 

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"I’ll tell you this. If the youth use continues to rise, and we see significant increases in use in 2019, on top of the dramatic rise in 2018, the entire category will face an existential threat," he said.

Gottlieb pointed to data from the agency indicating that youth vaping rates had nearly doubled over the last year due to the increased availability and convenience of e-cigarette products. In his remarks, Gottlieb singled out e-cigarette brand Juul as a top choice among high school and middle school students.

"This progress is being undercut — even eclipsed — by the recent, dramatic rise in youth vaping," Gottlieb said of declining numbers of traditional smokers. "A few years ago, it would have been incredible to me that we’d be here, discussing the potential for drug therapy to help addicted youth vapers quit nicotine."

E-cigarette use spiked 78 percent among high school students and 48 percent among middle school students over the last year, the FDA says. Altogether, about 1.5 million young people took up the habit from 2017 to 2018, despite the Trump administration's efforts to curtail youth vaping.

The FDA has the ability to stop e-cigarette sales and mandate that producers go through a formal FDA approval process, though it has not yet done so, NBC News notes.

A spokesman for Juul told The Hill on Friday that the company condemned any use of its products among minors.

“Underage use of JUUL and any other vaping products is completely unacceptable to us and is directly opposed to our mission of eliminating cigarettes by offering existing adult smokers a true alternative to combustible cigarettes," said Ted Kwong, a Juul Labs spokesman.

"We are moving full steam ahead on implementing our action plan to limit youth usage, and this is unchanged since we announced our plan in November," he added. "We will be a transparent, engaged, and committed partner with FDA, state Attorneys General, local municipalities, and community organizations in the effort to combat underage use.”