The US Food and Drug Administration next week will issue a ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes with fruit and sweets in convenience stores and gas stations, according to an agent from the agency, in an attempt to wave a teenager's use of e-cigarettes to counteract.
The ban means that only tobacco, mint and menthol flavors can be sold at these outlets, said the official of the agency, which may be a big blow for Juul Labs Inc., the San Francisco-based market leader in vaporizers.
The FDA will also introduce stricter age verification requirements for the online sale of e-cigarettes. The planned FDA restrictions, first reported by The Washington Post and confirmed to Reuters by the official, do not apply to voodewinkels or other specialty stores.
There is increasing pressure to take action after preliminary federal data show that the use of teenagers has increased by more than 75 percent since last year, and the FDA has described it as an "epidemic."
"E-cigs have become an almost ubiquitous – and dangerous – trend among teenagers," said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in September. "The disturbing and accelerating pathway that we see in youth and the resulting path to addiction must end, it is simply not tolerable."
That growth coincided with the rise of Juul, whose sales of vaping devices last year grew from 2.2 million in 2016 to 16.2 million devices, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The agency threatened to ban Juul and four other leading e-cigarette products in September, unless their creators took measures to prevent use by minors. The FDA gave Juul and four major tobacco companies 60 days to submit plans to curb minors, a compliance period that is now coming to an end.
The planned restrictions on flavors in convenience stores probably have the biggest impact on Juul, which sells nicotine liquid pods in flavors such as mango, mint, fruit and cream, formerly known as creme brulee.
The only other competitors of e-cigarettes sold in convenience stores are those sold mainly by tobacco companies such as Altria Group Inc., British American Tobacco Plc, Imperial Brands Plc and Japan Tobacco Inc.
These products, sold under the MarkTen, blu-, Vuse and Logic brands, have lost market share since Juul rose to prominence last year, growing from 13.6 percent of the US e-cigarette market in early 2017 to almost 75 percent now, according to a Wells Fargo analysis of retail data from Nielsen.
E-cigarette products account for a small part of the revenue for large tobacco manufacturers, while Juul's activities are fully based on the vaping devices. In the first six months of 2018, revenues from e-cigarette devices accounted for less than 1 per cent of British American Tobacco's worldwide sales, according to a company that registered from July.
Altria announced last month that it would sell its pod-based electronic cigarettes, generally smaller devices using pre-filled nicotine liquid cartridges, in response to the FDA's concerns about teenagers' use. The company also said that flavoring for its other e-cigarette products would be limited to tobacco, menthol and currency.
Representatives of Altria, British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands and Japan Tobacco did not respond to requests for comments on Thursday evening. A Juul spokeswoman declined to comment.
The companies have previously said that their products are intended for use by adults and that they ensure that retailers comply with the law.
Juul said earlier that the company "wants to be part of the solution to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of young people", but that "suitable flavors play an important role in changing adult smokers."
Meredith Berkman, a founder of Parents Against Vaping E-cigarettes, who wants to curb minor use, said that moving the agency was a "good first step", but added that "the last step should have happened yesterday".
"Why not completely eat with flavors, why not stop selling online?" she said.
E-cigarettes are a subject that sows divisions in the public health community. Some focus on the potential for the products to move lifelong smokers into less harmful nicotine products, while others fear that they are at risk of developing a new generation of nicotine addiction.
Last year, the FDA, under Gottlieb, extended a deadline until 2022 for e-cigarette companies to comply with new federal rules on marketing and public health.