Health and Science

FDA says it had 'constructive' meetings with e-cigarette manufacturers on teen epidemic

Key Points
  • FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has met with executives from the top five manufacturers of e-cigarettes representing 97 percent of the market.
  • The FDA in September ordered the group to submit plans on reducing teen use.
  • Gottlieb says his meetings have been "constructive."
Teenage visitors smoking electronic cigarettes at a vape trade fair. 
Sergei Konkov | TASS | Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration has had "constructive" meetings with e-cigarette manufacturers since instructing them to fix "epidemic" levels of teen nicotine use, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Wednesday.

The FDA last month ordered five manufacturers — 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 on reducing teen use. The five companies represent about 97 percent of the e-cigarette market, according to the FDA.

Preliminary federal data show the amount of high school students using e-cigarettes surged 77 percent this year, prompting the agency to take action.

Since then, Gottlieb said he has met with executives from each company and they presented "thoughtful" proposals on steps the companies and the agency can take to curb youth use.

"The companies acknowledged the role that flavored e-cigarette products play in appealing to kids, as well as the role that flavored e-cigarettes can also play in helping adult smokers quit," he said in a statement.

Calling it a public health crisis, Gottlieb said the agency could restrict sales of fruity flavors to places with more vigorous age checks. He recently told CNBC the agency is considering confining sales to vape shops.

The FDA could also pull all products it deems as more appealing to kids until it can review and approve them. Products that were on the market before Aug. 8, 2016, were supposed to start undergoing review this year until Gottlieb extended the deadline to Aug. 8, 2022, so manufacturers would have more time to file complete applications.

Reynolds American, which is owned by British American Tobacco, said it plans to impose penalties on retailers who sell to underaged kids and beef up its online sales practices to curb teen use, among other things.

"As part of this discussion, we identified several specific actions that our companies would take and additional regulatory proposals we believe that FDA should consider implementing across the industry," Reynolds spokesman Michael Shannon said in an email, adding that it will submit its full plan to the agency next week. "We understand the increase in youth vapor use is challenging the careful balance that FDA is pursuing both to provide adult smokers with alternatives and prevent youth use."

Altria said last week it will pull its MarkTen pod-based products and will stop selling all flavors except for menthol or tobacco in its cig-a-like products until the FDA reviews and approves them. Other companies have not yet disclosed what, if any, voluntary actions they will pursue.

"We share the FDA's concern with youth usage of e-vapor products and want to be part of the solution," Altria spokesman Steve Callahan said in an email.

Altria has also previously said it will support efforts to raise the federal age to buy tobacco products to 21 from the 18. Juul already backs this idea and requires its online shoppers to be 21. Gottlieb said Wednesday that some companies promised to endorse the initiative though he did not name which ones.

Gottlieb said the agency welcomes any voluntary steps the companies may take to address teen use.

Victoria Davis, a spokewoman for Juul, said executives were putting the finishing touches on their proposal based on feedback from the FDA. "Our plan will outline further actions we will take to keep the JUUL device out of the hands of young people," she said.

Japan Tobacco spokeswoman Michele Maron said the company stands by the FDA's mission to eradicate youth use, "including efforts to remove products that have not been commercialized, marketed or sold in line with the regulations."