By Umar Farooq
WASHINGTON (AA) – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday announced a number of actions to crack down on the e-cigarette market, which has been selling and marketing to teens.
The agency sent more than 1,300 letters of warning and penalty fines to stores that had been found selling e-cigarettes to minors, after an undercover sting operation during the summer uncovered the illegal activity.
"We see clear signs that youth use of electronic cigarettes has reached an epidemic proportion, and we must adjust certain aspects of our comprehensive strategy to stem this clear and present danger," according to a statement.
The FDA cited e-cigarettes were by far the most popular tobacco product for youths in the U.S. They estimated more than 2 million teens in middle and high school were using these cigarettes.
The agency also issued a notice to major e-cigarette companies, giving them 60 days to provide a plan on how they will keep teens from using their products. If they fail to do so, the FDA said it would remove the flavors that have most attracted the youth from the market.
"Recognizing that our most immediate tool to address youth use is enforcement, this has been a cornerstone of our approach. And it’s a tool that we’ll continue to deploy, and with growing vigor, to directly address this challenge," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in an online statement.
The FDA's announcement was supported by anti-tobacco advocacy groups.
The Truth Initiative, a non-profit health organization aimed at eliminating tobacco use, was encouraged by the announcement and said the tobacco industry is unable to regulate itself.
"We have learned the hard way from many years of experience that the tobacco companies should not be the ones to decide solutions. Instead, the FDA should act quickly to use its pre-market review authority to ensure products like JUUL are properly reviewed and regulated before they ever get to market," the group’s CEO and President Robin Koval said in a statement.
However, Koval noted the FDA needs to remove all flavored tobacco products from the market unless companies can prove they help adults switch from regular cigarettes, while at the same time do not sell to minors.