Scott Gottlieb, FDA Head, Calls Teenage Vaping An Epidemic, Threatens Flavored Vape Ban

The FDA announces action against retailers selling e-cigarettes to minors.

A customer smokes an E-Cigarette at Digital Ciggz
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The FDA announces action against retailers selling e-cigarettes to minors.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb described teenage vaping as an epidemic as part of an announcement of action against retailers selling vapes to minors, the Washington Post reports.

On Wednesday, the FDA announced that it had taken action against over 1,300 retailers for selling the products to minors, the largest enforcement action ever undertaken by the agency.

In research undertaken by the FDA, which was shared with the Washington Post, shows a 75 percent increase in vaping among high school students compared to last year. That data has not been released publicly yet, with the data coming from the early stages of the National Youth Tobacco Survey.

As part of the FDA’s enforcement, the agency sent 1,200 letters warning retailers that they could face penalties for selling to customers under 18. Another 130 stores were issued fines from $279 to a high of $11,182 for repeat offenses.

Some of the companies issued letters were high-profile retailers including locations of Walgreens and Walmart and several gas stations from the 7-Eleven, Circle K, Citco, and Exxon chains.

Speaking to his employees, Gottlieb spoke of the underage use of e-cigarettes becoming a crisis, saying, “the disturbing and accelerating trajectory of use we’re seeing in youth, and the resulting path to addiction, must end.”

Further to the penalties issued to various retailers, there were also letters sent to the five leading vape manufacturers requesting them to submit plans about how to curb sales to minors. The letter came with a 60-day deadline and a threat that if there were no promises made to stop the use of the products by minors, the agency would start looking at taking steps to remove flavored products from the market.

Should that ban occur, the fast-growing industry would take a significant hit with all the major e-cigarette companies selling non-nicotine fruit flavors.

Supporters of such a ban contend that the use of fruit flavors encourage minors to try the products, and that then leads to them becoming addicted. The manufacturers argue that having flavored vapes allows nicotine-addicted adults to kick their smoking habit, transitioning to the safer vapes.

The announcement came as surprise, given Gottlieb’s earlier comments supporting e-cigarettes specifically for the reason that the industry gives for avoiding the ban. Gottlieb acknowledged that fact but said his greater concern was the risk to young people, worried that they will move to traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the manufacturers have welcomed the work from the FDA, promising to cooperate with the request. Juul, a company that has become popular with teenagers, has said they will “work proactively with the request.”

Juul really has no choice but to cooperate, with the company reportedly holding 72 percent of the market with a worth estimated to be $2.3 billion.

In response to the news from the FDA, shares in tobacco companies rose sharply, with some gaining as much as 8 percent.