E-cigarette use is an 'epidemic', FDA chief says

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"I've been warning the e-cigarette industry for more than a year that they needed to do much more to stem the youth trends", he said. Nearly 12% of high school students and 3% of middle school students reported using e-cigarettes in the prior 30 days.

To that end, the FDA on Wednesday said it has asked Vuse, Blu, JUUL, MarkTen XL and Logic to submit plans within 60 days to describe how they will address widespread youth access and use of their products.

Manufacturers offer and market e-cigarette flavors that appeal to minors, including candy, bubble gum and fruit flavors.

The agency will also be increasing federal enforcement actions on e-cig sales to minors in convenience stores and other retail sites, Gottlieb said, and would look closely at a practice called "straw purchases", in which adults visit web-based stores and buy in bulk to resell to minors.

FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the agency will soon release data that show a "substantial increase" in youth vaping this year compared with 2017.

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Juul owns about 72 percent of the USA market for e-cigarette sales, according to Wells Fargo. "We are committed to preventing underage use of our product, and we want to be part of the solution in keeping e-cigarettes out of the hands of young people". The companies sell Vuse, Blu, Juul, MarkTen XL, and Logic e-cigarette brands, which account for 97 percent of USA e-cigarette sales, according to FDA.

Juul e-cigarette starter pack is seen in this picture illustration taken July 16, 2018. Shares of cigarette and e-cigarette maker Altria Group also rose more than 6 percent, while Philip Morris International shares were up 4 percent.

"I'll be clear. The FDA won't tolerate a whole generation of young people becoming addicted to nicotine as a tradeoff for enabling adults to have unfettered access to these same products", Gottlieb said. Companies whose products are pulled from shelves will have to prove a net positive public health benefit before sales can resume.

Shares of Altria, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes in the US, rose as much as 5.3 percent to $62.60 in NY, the biggest intraday gain in eight years.

One manufacturer in the FDA's crosshairs, Juul Labs, said in a statement, "JUUL Labs will work proactively with FDA in response to its request".

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"By working together, we believe we can help adult smokers while preventing access to minors", the company said in a statement. Regulators said it was the largest coordinated crackdown in the agency's history. Additionally, 12 online retailers were found to be selling vaping products that were "misleadingly labeled and/or advertised e-liquids resembling kid-friendly food products", in violation of an earlier order from the FDA, and were also slapped with warning letters, according to the announcement.

The FDA is in the process of rolling out a sweeping anti-smoking initiative created to make it easier for smokers to quit by cutting the nicotine levels in regular cigarettes. "Juul is a product for adult smokers".

On Wednesday, Gottlieb criticized e-cigarette companies' handling of the underage use problem, saying they approached it as "a public relations challenge rather than seriously considering their legal obligations".

"What we have learned from our experience with cigarettes and other products, is it is important to restrict sales to kids, but if you make products appealing to kids, market them in ways to attract kids, you can be certain kids will get them", Myers told AFP.

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