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TUESDAY, April 24, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- A crackdown on the sale of the wildly popular Juul brand of electronic cigarettes to teens was announced Tuesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
It includes a nationwide undercover blitz targeting the illegal sale of Juul products to minors at both stores and online retailers, according to FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb.
Juul electronic cigarettes look like computer flash drives and have become a favorite of teenagers. They contain high levels of nicotine and emit vapors that are hard to see or detect.
Just last week, a survey found that many young Americans don't even realize that Juuls contain highly addictive nicotine.
But just one Juul cartridge has nicotine levels equal to a pack of cigarettes, and Juul now commands more than half of the e-cigarette market.
"Today's announcement is a step in the right direction, but the FDA needs to accelerate its actions when it comes to regulating e-cigarettes like Juul and remove flavors known to entice youth," said Dave Dobbins, chief operating officer of the Truth Initiative, which conducted the youth survey.
"Keeping e-cigarettes on the market without first evaluating them is putting an entire generation of young people at risk of addiction," Dobbins added in a statement released Tuesday.
Gottlieb stressed that the FDA is taking the dangers of Juul products seriously.
"The illegal sale of these Juul products to minors is concerning. In fact, just since the beginning of March, FDA compliance checks have uncovered 40 violations for illegal sales of Juul products to youth," he said in an agency news release.
"The FDA has issued 40 warning letters for those violations… And we anticipate taking many more similar actions as a result of the ongoing blitz and our focus on enforcement related to youth access," Gottlieb said.
"Let me be clear to retailers," he added. "This blitz, and resulting actions, should serve as notice that we will not tolerate the sale of any tobacco products to youth."
The FDA also contacted eBay about several listings for Juul products on its website, and eBay removed them and took steps to prevent similar new listings, according to the agency.
In yet another action, the FDA said it has asked the maker of Juul products for documents that could help explain why kids find the products so appealing.
"We don't yet fully understand why these products are so popular among youth. But it's imperative that we figure it out, and fast. These documents may help us get there," Gottlieb said.
The FDA also plans to make such requests to manufacturers of similar products. If Juul or the other companies do not comply, they will be breaking the law and face enforcement, the agency said.
Another part of the crackdown includes additional enforcement actions against companies the FDA believes are marketing e-cigarettes in ways that are misleading to minors.
"We will announce additional steps in the coming weeks and months. And I hope that this sends a clear message to all tobacco product manufacturers and retailers that the FDA is taking on this issue with urgency, and if kids are flocking to your product or you're illegally selling these products to kids, you're on the agency's radar," Gottlieb said.
Along with campaigns to educate young people about the dangers of e-cigarettes and all other tobacco products, the FDA is assessing ways to make tobacco products less toxic, addictive and appealing, the agency added.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCES: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, news release, April 24, 2018; statement, Truth Initiative, April 24, 2018