The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has moved to ban the sale and distribution of products from Juul Labs Inc, an e-cigarette company that many blame for sparking a proliferation of teenage vaping in the United States.
In a statement on Thursday, the federal health agency said the company must stop selling and distributing its products in the US – including its vaping device and flavoured cartridges – while those already on the market must be removed.
The FDA will not target consumers for possessing Juul products, it added.
“Today’s action is further progress on the FDA’s commitment to ensuring that all e-cigarette and electronic nicotine delivery system products currently being marketed to consumers meet our public health standards,” FDA Commissioner Robert M Califf said in the statement.
The US vaping market, worth an estimated $6bn in 2020, according to data from Grand View Research, has come under increased scrutiny as anti-tobacco advocates call for greater regulation of the industry.
In response to the FDA’s announcement, the company said on Thursday that it would explore “all of our options under the FDA’s regulations and the law, including appealing the decision and engaging with our regulator”.
Juul products accounted for 42 percent of the US e-cigarette market in 2020, data firm Statista reported.
Juul and other e-cigarette companies often sell flavoured products, which the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said enhances their appeal among young people.
Between 2015 and 2018, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), sales of fruit-flavoured e-cigarette cartridges skyrocketed by 600 percent and “young people identify flavors as a primary reason they use e-cigarettes”.
The CDC also reported that e-cigarettes have been the most popular tobacco product among young smokers since 2014, and more than 10 percent of high school students reported using e-cigarettes in 2021, compared with just 1.9 percent who use traditional cigarettes.
In 2018, the US Surgeon General declared that there was an “e-cigarette epidemic” among young people, adding that e-cigarette usage increased 78 percent among high school students from the previous year, from 11.7 percent in 2017 to 20.8 percent in 2018.
In 2019, more than 27 percent of high school students used e-cigarettes, according to the CDC.
In its statement on Thursday, the FDA said Juul failed to provide sufficient data to show that the marketing of its products was “appropriate for the protection of the public health”.
“Without the data needed to determine relevant health risks, the FDA is issuing these marketing denial orders,” it said.
Juul has pitched itself as an alternative to cigarettes, and its website states that its “mission is to transition the world’s billion adult smokers away from combustible cigarettes, eliminate their use, and combat underage usage of our products”.
Opponents of e-cigarettes are not convinced and maintain that the appeal of vaping, especially with flavoured products, threatens to roll back the successful decrease in teenage smoking that has occurred during the last several decades.
On its website, the anti-smoking advocacy group Truth Initiative says, “While we endorse the important public health strategy of harm minimization and these new products may be beneficial to smokers who completely switch from combustible tobacco, they still pose health risks and nonsmokers should never use them.”
During the last several years, Juul has paid out tens of millions in lawsuits.
In April of this year, Juul agreed to pay $22.5m to settle a consumer protection lawsuit filed by Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who claimed that the company misled consumers about the addictiveness of its product and targeted underage consumers.
In North Carolina a year earlier, Juul agreed to a $40m settlement after being sued by the state Attorney General Josh Stein for deceptive marketing that targeted young people.