FDA Orders Juul E-Cigarettes Off U.S. Shelves

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Thursday announced it would pull Juul e-cigarette products from American shelves in an effort to curb youth vaping.

Regulators said the popular vaping company must remove its Juul e-cigarette device and four types of flavored nicotine pods from the market or face enforcement. The decision doesn’t make the use of Juul vaping products illegal, only their sale.

“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,” said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf.

“The agency has dedicated significant resources to review products from the companies that account for most of the U.S. market. We recognize these make up a significant part of the available products and many have played a disproportionate role in the rise in youth vaping.”

For several years, Juul has fought to keep selling e-cigarettes amid heightened regulatory scrutiny of vaping products and their effects on young people. In 2020, the company applied to keep its products on the market, submitting a trove of studies to the FDA evaluating Juul’s impact on smokers, non-smokers, and children.

Juul is currently the top e-cigarette manufacturer in America, accounting for 42% of all U.S. e-cigarettes sold in 2020. Only two years after launching in 2015, the San Francisco-based startup overtook tobacco giants to become the industry leader. Altria Group, one the of world’s largest tobacco firms and the parent company of Phillip Morris, later acquired 35% of the e-cigarette brand for $12.8 billion in 2018.

Following reports of the imminent ban on Wednesday, Altria shares took a 9% tumble on the New York Stock Exchange after already having fallen more than 13% this year.

The FDA started cracking down on e-cigarettes in 2020, when the agency banned the sale of most fruit and menthol-flavored nicotine vaping products. The new rules threatened regulatory action against companies that don’t take appropriate measures to prevent children from accessing their products.

Last year, a major survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that more than 2 million U.S. middle and high school students regularly use e-cigarettes, with a majority (84.7%) using flavored products. The most popular brands were Puff Bar, Vuse, Juul, SMOK, and Suorin. Vaping has sent 2,602 people to the hospital and is linked to 59 deaths in America, according to a tracker from the New York Times.

Until recently, a loophole in U.S. law prevented the FDA from regulating artificial nicotine – commonly found in e-cigarettes and other vaping products. But in March, Congress passed a budget provision to clarify that the federal government has the authority to regulate all forms of nicotine, even synthetic nicotine that isn’t derived from tobacco.

Just one day before news of the ban leaked, the FDA revealed separate plans to put a cap on nicotine levels for traditional cigarettes in a bid to curb youth tobacco use, addiction and smoking deaths.

“Nicotine is powerfully addictive,” said FDA Commissioner Robert Califf. “Making cigarettes and other combusted tobacco products minimally addictive or non-addictive would help save lives.”

Anti-tobacco groups celebrated the Juul ban as a major step towards tackling the well-documented rise in youth vaping over the last decade.

But detractors pointed out that the move is unlikely to stop young people from using e-cigarettes, and could instead push them toward less-regulated vaping products, many of which are imported from China.

Other critics questioned why regulators would pull vaping products like Juul off the market while traditional cigarettes remain legal to buy. Research shows e-cigarettes help people quit traditional cigarettes, and studies from top health institutions have found that vaping, while certainly not harmless, is safer than smoking because it exposes users to fewer toxic chemicals than traditional cigarettes.

Some analysts said cracking down on nicotine during an election year could be a political move by the Biden administration, which has been plagued by low approval ratings.

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) on Wednesday slammed the FDA for taking too long to start regulating vaping products. He released a report conducted by his office that found 750,000 children picked up tobacco vaping in the nine months during which the FDA waited to start regulating e-cigarettes.

“For years, the FDA failed to regulate e-cigarettes, and allowed millions of vaping products to illegally enter the market, fueling the youth vaping epidemic,” Durbin said in a press release. “Today, millions of children use e-cigarettes as a result of FDA inaction and our findings underscore the severity of these continued delays.

The news of the ban sent some vaping fanatics rushing to tobacco shops to stock up on Juul e-cigarettes before they’re taken off the market.

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