In a surprise inspection last Friday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seized “over a thousand pages” of documents from e-cigarette maker Juul Labs’ headquarters. Juul, the largest e-cigarette company in the U.S., has seen its profits soar by $14 Million in 1 year and controls an estimated 72 percent of the e-cigarette market. Concerningly, their e-cigarette products are widely disseminated across American high school – and middle school – grounds.
According to the FDA, the seized documents contained information relating to Juul’s marketing and sales strategies. Juul, along with several other e-cigarette makers, have been under fire in recent months as more new studies continue to demonstrate the widespread and growing use of e-cigarettes among teenagers in the U.S.
The FDA’s unannounced inspection of the Juul Labs headquarters can be interpreted as a power move – one that applies additional pressure to the company’s looming deadline to produce new and detailed marketing plans that will limit teenagers’ access to e-cigarettes.
The FDA Looks for Intentional Marketing to Teenagers
FDA Commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, stated last month that e-cigarette use among American teenagers has reached “epidemic proportions.” Dr. Gottlieb and the FDA’s claim has the data to back it up: In a recent high school survey, it was found that the number of students who had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days had risen by around 75 percent.
Partly, the FDA believes, the upward trend in e-cigarette use among minors is due to the enticing, candy-like names that certain e-cigarette flavors are being sold under. Juul, for example, sells “Mango”, “Crème”, and “Fruit” flavored nicotine. Beyond Juul, other e-cigarette flavor pods (or “juices”) include “Blue Razz”, “Kiwi Berry”, and even “Gummy Bear”.
Just as with the major settlement against Big Tobacco in 1999, when it was found that the biggest cigarette companies were deliberately marketing their products to minors, the FDA has a similar suspicion that e-cigarette makers are now following suit. According to a report by the New York Times, the federal agency was particularly interested in seizing internal Juul documents about deliberate targeting of teens.
In a statement, the FDA said:
“The new and highly disturbing data we have on youth use demonstrates plainly that e-cigarettes are creating an epidemic of regular nicotine use among teens. It is vital that we take action to understand and address the particular appeal of, and ease of access to, these products among kids.”
From Juul’s perspective, the company has been doing all it can to comply with the FDA as it conducts its investigation. Kevin Burns, CEO of Juul Labs, reported that his company had already handed over more than 50,000 documents to the FDA, issuing a statement that said:
“We are committed to preventing underage use, and we want to engage with FDA, lawmakers, public health advocates and others to keep JUUL out of the hands of young people…. We want to be part of the solution in preventing underage use, and we believe it will take industry and regulators working together to restrict youth access.”
What’s Next for E-Cigarettes?
It’s important that the American public, especially parents of teenagers, remain aware of this story as it continues to develop. While the popularity of e-cigarettes seems to be continually growing, their safety is not growing in proportion. Numerous e-cigarette explosions have been reported in addition to the common safety concerns associated with smoking. E-cigarettes may not have the same carcinogens in it that are produced from traditional cigarettes smoke, but due to the nicotine levels in e-cigarette vaping flavor “pods,” they can be just as addictive.
This week, a study published in The Journal of Nicotine and Tobacco Research showed that among 2,039 Californians between the ages of 16 and 20 who used e-cigarettes, many of them went on to smoke traditional cigarettes. The study, which tracked the teenagers over a 2-year span, also showed that by the study’s conclusion, more than half of the participants were smoking traditional cigarettes in addition to e-cigarettes.
Just last month, the FDA published a press release announcing that they had sent more than 1,300 “warning letters” and fines to e-cigarette retail stores that were found to be selling Juul vapes to minors.
As things stand presently, Juul Labs and 4 other e-cigarette companies have less than 60 days to comply with the FDA’s demand for new marketing plans that will limit teenagers’ access to e-cigarettes.