Health and Science

FTC opens inquiry into e-cigarette industry's marketing practices

Key Points
  • The Federal Trade Commission is looking into e-cigarette marketing practices.
  • The inquiry involves six e-cigarette makers including Juul and NJOY products.
  • The FTC is seeking more information on how e-cigarette companies marketed their products to younger demographics.
A smoker is engulfed by vapors as he smokes an electronic vaping machine
Tolga Akmen | AFP | Getty Images

The Federal Trade Commission has opened a new inquiry looking at the marketing practices of six major e-cigarette manufacturers, ordering them to turn over reams of data by Jan. 2, the agency announced Thursday.

The commission is requiring the companies — Juul Labs, RJ Reynolds Vapor Company, NJOY LLC, Nu Mark, Logic Technology Development and Fontem US — to compile and submit special reports that include data "concerning the sales, practices, and methods of advertising" their vaping products from 2015 through 2018, according to a press release.

The agency stopped short of issuing formal subpoenas, but the companies could still face legal action if they miss the deadline or don't provide all the material requested, an agency spokeswoman said.

"While the orders are called 6B orders rather than subpoenas, compliance is obligatory," FTC spokeswoman Betsy Lordan said when asked if the companies could face court action.

The agency is also looking at the companies' social media campaigns, including how they identified and tracked followers, tools they used to curb exposure to minors and their use of celebrities or social media influencers to promote their merchandise, according to a copy of the order sent to the companies on Aug. 29.

The FTC said it's using the information to compile a study, similar to reports it has released on cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products.

Logic said it received and was reviewing the order, and then deflected blame to one of its competitors.

"Regulators have rightly focused their attention on Juul's marketing activity, which in no way is reflective of our own strict marketing principles. Logic has always communicated responsibly about its products, such as having health warnings on advertising and age-verification on our website," the company said in an emailed statement.

RJ Reynolds also said it was reviewing the FTC's request.

Nu Mark, which was discontinued by parent company Altria in December, said in an email statement that it would comply with the FTC's request as well.

None of the other companies, including Juul, immediately responded to requests for comment.

Advertisements of e-cigarettes with young models, bright colors and fruity flavors have been criticized by health officials, lawmakers and parents for attracting underage minors to vaping.

States, local and international health regulators are taking action. Cities including Boulder, Colorado, and Juul's hometown of San Francisco have banned the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. State officials in Washington and Michigan have similarly restricted sales there.

E-cigarette makers have come under fire in the wake of a vaping illness outbreak that has now spread to 46 states and one territory, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public health officials in 13 states have reported deaths.

Until they have more information, public health officials are urging consumers not to use e-cigarettes or other vaping products. The CDC also recommends not using vaping products off the street and not adding substances to products that are not intended by the manufacturer.