Officials at the Food and Drug Administration have raided the San Francisco office of e-cigarette maker Juul and seized more than a thousand pages of documents tied to their marketing practices.
FDA officials surprised the company on Friday but made the announcement about the inspection on Tuesday. The intent was to get "further documentation related to JUUL’s sales and marketing practices, among other things," the FDA said in a statement.
Around the same time as the announcement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compounded the damage to the company by releasing a report showing that the sales of Juul, a popular e-cigarette that is shaped like a USB drive, increased more than sevenfold among teens from 2016 to 2017.
“The popularity of Juul among kids threatens our progress in reducing youth e-cigarette use,” Robert Redfield, CDC director, said in a statement. “We are alarmed that these new high nicotine content e-cigarettes, marketed and sold in kid-friendly flavors, are so appealing to our nation’s young people.”
About 3 million teens use e-cigarettes, and Juul dominates the market. The FDA said in a statement that it was "committed to taking all necessary actions, such as inspections and advancing new policies, to prevent a new generation of kids from becoming addicted to tobacco products."
[Opinion: Despite JUUL crackdown, vaping is still (way) safer than smoking]
The announcement about Juul came at the heels of FDA announcing last month it was considering banning flavored e-cigarettes, which heat liquids, often containing nicotine, that are inhaled by the user. The liquids often come in multiple tastes meant to mimic fruit or dessert, leading to charges from critics that they are aimed at children.
FDA officials are gathering feedback about how to proceed in reducing use of e-cigarettes among teens, whether by banning flavors or online sales, or taking another route, and will be putting out proposals in November for regulating e-cigarettes.
Agency officials also have asked vaping companies to put out their own proposals about how to reduce the use of their devices among teens.
Kevin Burns, JUUL CEO, said in a statement that the company was "committed to preventing underage use." JUUL executives met with the FDA last week and Burns said they provided information about the business, including practices on checking the age of online buyers. JUUL has released more than 50,000 pages of documents to the agency in recent months.
"We look forward to presenting our plan to address youth access in the 60-day time frame as outlined by FDA," Burns said. "We want to be part of the solution in preventing underage use, and we believe it will take industry and regulators working together to restrict youth access.”
On Tuesday, a pair of senators asked the FDA to take more action, including banning flavors.
“We urge you to take the strongest action possible to protect our children from a lifetime of nicotine addiction, and to offer our continued congressional assistance in whatever way would be helpful in your efforts,” Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, wrote to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.
Durbin and Murkowski also have introduced a bill that would restrict flavors for e-cigarettes so that manufacturers could only sell them if they've proven to the FDA that they help smokers quit and do not encourage children to take them up.
They said in their letter that it was "abundantly clear" that the companies were working to appeal to children and get them hooked on their products.
The Trump administration had moved back a deadline for e-cigarette makers to submit their products to the FDA so that they could undergo review, a move Gottlieb said could be reversed. The administration has left the door open to approving e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, and even a means to quit smoking, but Gottlieb has said that having more children use the products is not an acceptable trade-off.
The FDA has sent warning letters and issued fines on stores that are selling e-cigarettes to minors, and said that the use among young people has reached "epidemic proportions."
The vaping industry has said that it does not want to pull the favors from shelves because often adults who are seeking to quit smoking are looking for a flavorful alternative that turns them off of traditional cigarettes.