Feds warn e-cig liquid companies about packaging after thousands of kids drink toxic liquid

Jayne O'Donnell
Sweet flavored e-liquids on display.
John Keeble | Getty Images

Federal regulators warned 13 e-cigarette liquid makers and sellers Tuesday that they need to change packaging that markets the tobacco products to children and has led to some children accidentally drinking liquid nicotine.

Several of the online retailers were also cited for illegally selling the products to minors.

The e-cigarettes targeted had labeling and/or advertising that looked like kid-friendly food products, such as juice boxes, candy or cookies, some including cartoon images.

There were more than 8,200 e-cigarette and liquid nicotine exposures among children younger than six between January 2012 and April 2017, according to a recent analysis of National Poison Data System data.

Children are at greater risk because exposure to the nicotine in e-liquid products, even in small amounts, could lead to death from cardiac arrest, as well as seizure, coma, and respiratory failure.

"No child should be using any tobacco product, and no tobacco products should be marketed in a way that endangers kids — especially by using imagery that misleads them into thinking the products are things they'd eat or drink. said FDA Commissioner and physician Scott Gottlieb. "Looking at these side-to-side comparisons is alarming."

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Products targeted include: "One Mad Hit Juice Box," which resembles children's apple juice boxes, such as Tree Top-brand juice boxes; "Vape Heads Sour Smurf Sauce," which resembles War Heads candy; and "V'Nilla Cookies & Milk," which resembles Nilla Wafer and Golden Oreo cookies; "Whip'd Strawberry," which looks like Reddi-wip dairy whipped topping, and "Twirly Pop," which "not only resembles a Unicorn Pop lollipop but is shipped with one," the FDA says.

"Nicotine is highly toxic, and these letters make clear that marketing methods that put kids at risk of nicotine poisoning are unacceptable," said Acting FTC Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen.

"Companies selling these products have a responsibility to ensure they aren't putting children in harm's way or enticing youth use," says Gottlieb. He vowed to "continue to take action against those who sell tobacco products to youth and market products in this egregious fashion."

FDA says it might file injunctions or seize products if the companies don't take action to address regulators' concerns.