FDA mulls ban on flavored e-cigarettes

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United States regulators said Wednesday they are considering an immediate ban on flavored e-cigarettes, as the Food and Drug Administration chief warned of an "epidemic" of vaping among youths.

"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", FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a press release. "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", Juul spokesperson Victoria Davis said in a statement provided to TIME.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering a ban on flavored e-cigarettes in response to what it warned is an "epidemic" of young people using the devices and getting hooked on nicotine, it was announced on Wednesday.

Shares of British American Tobacco, which owns the Vuse brand, closed up almost 6 percent, while shares of cigarette-maker Imperial Brands PLC, which owns Blu, rose more than 3 percent. British American, which produces Camel cigarettes, climbed as much as 6.4 percent in London, the biggest intraday increase in 10 years.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a nicotine liquid into a vapor that can be inhaled.

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"This could result in a bullet through the head of Juul, the driver of youth initiation", said Nico von Stackelberg, an analyst with Liberum in London, told the news agency.

To gain clearance to return to the market, the companies would have to prove that the benefits to adults who use e-cigarettes to stop smoking outweigh the risks associated with youth vaping.

"Let me be clear: Everything is on the table", said Gottlieb. He declined to disclose the evidence. Of the 3.6 million middle and high school students who said in 2017 they were tobacco product users, 2.1 million used e-cigarettes, Bloomberg reports, citing CDC stats. But Gottlieb says sales have soared, especially to teens, who can quickly become addicted to nicotine.

The Juul in particular resembles a USB drive, making it easy for teenagers to hide and even bring to school. The company has more than two-thirds of the USA e-cigarette market, according to Nielsen data.

The agency is now demanding plans to reign in youth-targeted marketing campaigns and control illegal sales of their products to minors from Juul and four other e-cigarette makers within 60 days. "Juul is a product for adult smokers. By working together, we believe we can help adult smokers while preventing access to minors, and we will continue to engage with the FDA to fulfill our mission".

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The FDA also sent more than 1,300 warning letters and fines to retailers found to be selling vapes to minors during an "undercover nationwide blitz" this summer.

"We're announcing the largest ever coordinated initiative against violative sales in the history of the FDA".

Since 2017, FDA officials have discussed e-cigarettes as a potential tool to ween adult smokers off cigarettes. He said in June tobacco companies "better step up and step up soon" but he didn't divulge what consequences the industry could face - until now.

The agency said it continues to check retail stores that sell tobacco, to ensure they are in compliance with federal laws. Gottlieb said at the time he was trying to ease the regulatory pathway for products that are potentially less harmful sources of nicotine than smoking.

The FDA banned e-cigarette sales to minors in 2016, meaning they can not be sold to people under 18.

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