Regulators aren't going to allow what they're calling an epidemic of e-cigarette use among teens become a "pathway to nicotine dependency," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CNBC on Friday.
The e-cigarette craze has driven what's arguably the largest uptick in teen nicotine use in decades after years of driving cigarette smoking rates to record lows. Teens who would have never smoked cigarettes are happily inhaling fruity flavors, sometimes without realizing it is packed with nicotine, an addictive substance.
In response, the Food and Drug Administration earlier this week threatened to pull e-cigarettes from shelves if manufacturers do not control teen use. The agency is specifically ordering five brands — Juul, British American Tobacco's Vuse, Altria's MarkTen, Imperial Brands' Blu E-cigs and Japan Tobacco's Logic — to submit plans within 60 days detailing how they will prevent teens from using their products.
Azar said he "completely supports" the FDA in its proposed crackdown Friday in an interview with CNBC's "Squawk on the Street." A father of teens himself, he said he sees the "pervasiveness" and "rapid spread" of teen e-cigarette use.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Thursday that the FDA will soon publicly release new data showing that the proportion of high school teenagers using e-cigarettes has "reached nothing short of an epidemic."
Tobacco stocks surged after the news, as investors speculated it was good news for cigarettes and a win for Big Tobacco.
"I wouldn't want to speculate on the why the stock market reacts in the way that it does," Azar said. "I think it's also important to remember ... combustible companies also do have e-cigarette product lines, and they may be forecasting that as we move into a much more heightened regulatory framework, capabilities and capacities to deal with a heightened regulatory environment."