Ahead of a widely anticipated announcement that the FDA will ban the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes, the nation’s top selling e-cigarette maker is removing four of its flavored products from convenience stores and other retail establishments.
Juul Labs CEO Kevin Burns announced Tuesday that the company will stop accepting retail orders for the pod e-cigarettes in the flavors mango, fruit, creme, and cucumber from the more than 90,000 stores that sell the product.
The four flavors will still be available for sale on the company’s website, but Burns vowed to add additional age-verification measures to keep underage users from purchasing the products online.
“We launched flavors like Mango, Fruit, Creme, and Cucumber as effective tools to help adult smokers switch from combustible cigarettes, and we do not sell flavors like Gummy Bear or Cotton Candy, which are clearly targeted to kids,” Burns said in a press statement. “However, we are sensitive to the concerns articulated by [FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD] that ‘flavors play an important role in driving the youth appeal,’ and understand that products that appeal to adults also may appeal to youth.”
The New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported that the FDA plans to announce a ban on the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes at convenience stores and other retail establishments later this week.
Gottlieb called the use of electronic cigarettes by teens an “epidemic” in a September press conference in which he announced that the issue would be addressed with “the largest coordinated tobacco compliance effort in FDA‘s history.”
“I’ve been warning the e-cigarette industry for more than a year that they needed to do much more to stem the youth trends,” Gottlieb said at the time. “In my view, they treated these issues like a public relations challenge rather than seriously considering their legal obligations, the public health mandate, and the existential threat to these products. And the risks mounted.”
In his announcement that the four Juul pod flavors would no longer be sold in retail stores, Burns reiterated the company’s claim that its mission has always been to give adult cigarette smokers an alternative nicotine delivery product to help them quit smoking.
“Our intent was never to have youth use Juul products. But intent is not enough, the numbers are what matter, and the numbers tell us underage use of e-cigarette products is a problem. We must solve it,” Burns said.
Matthew L. Myers, president of the anti-smoking group Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, has been highly critical of the company in the past, especially the claim that it has not marketed its products to underage users.
On Tuesday, Myers called Juul Labs announcement, “too little, too late.”
“This is not a substitute for comprehensive FDA regulation of e-cigarettes,” he told MedPage Today. “Now that it has become so popular with kids and captured 75% of the e-cigarette market, Juul can pull back on social media because its young customers are doing the social media marketing themselves.”