The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is continuing to increase pressure on tobacco and e-cigarette makers to take significant measures to keep their products out of the hands of teens, with the agency indicating that Juul in particular needs to make good on its commitments to doing so. Now, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says that all e-cigarettes face an “existential threat” if they won’t take measures to combat the rising number of kids smoking.
“I still believe e-cigs offer an opportunity for currently addicted adult smokers to transition off cigarettes and onto products that may not have the same level of risks. But if youth use continues to rise, the entire category faces an existential threat,” Gottlieb tweeted Saturday. “I believe if every currently addicted adult smoker switched completely to e-cigs it would provide a tremendous public health gain. But that opportunity is in significant risk if kids use continues to rise.”
During a Friday public hearing on the issue in Silver Spring, Maryland, the commissioner said that e-cig use by middle and high school students had reached startling heights in recent years, even as use of combustible cigarettes continues to decline. And should the issue persist without sufficient intervention by the makers of e-cigarette products, they could be in deep shit.
“[I]f the epidemic continues to mount, I’m sure that the debate will change to one of whether these products should continue to be marketed at all without authorized pre-market tobacco applications,” Gottlieb said. “It could be ‘game over’ for some these products until they can successfully traverse the regulatory process. I think the stakes are that high. And would be a blow for all of the currently addicted adult smokers who, I believe, could potentially benefit from these products.”
Reacting to the FDA’s ongoing criticism for what the agency describes as Juul’s significant role in getting teens hooked on e-cigs, its CEO Kevin Burns has said that the company’s “intent was never to have youth use JUUL products” (even if an investigation by the New York Times last year seemingly indicated otherwise).
In a statement to Gizmodo on Saturday, the company indicated it was “moving full steam ahead on implementing our action plan to limit youth usage,” which it announced back in November. That initiative involved pulling some of its flavored pods from retail stores, shutting down social media accounts that were accused of marketing to teens, and adding age-verification tools to its website.
“Underage use of JUUL and any other vaping products is completely unacceptable to us and is directly opposed to our mission of eliminating cigarettes by offering existing adult smokers a true alternative to combustible cigarettes,” the spokesperson said. “We will be a transparent, engaged, and committed partner with FDA, state Attorneys General, local municipalities, and community organizations in the effort to combat underage use.”
Now would definitely be the time to kick it into high gear. The FDA sure doesn’t seem like it’s interested in fucking around.