US health officials ordered the vape company Juul to stop selling its popular electronic cigarettes on Thursday, the latest blow against the tobacco industry by the Biden administration.
The action is part of a sweeping effort by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to bring scientific scrutiny to the multibillion-dollar vaping industry after years of regulatory delays.
The ban comes one day after the Biden administration proposed a rule to establish a maximum nicotine level in cigarettes and other tobacco products in an attempt to make them less addictive.
Launched in 2015, Juul led the way in e-cigarettes, controlling 75% of the e-cigarette market in the US by its third year. It is the fifth best-selling e-cigarette in the UK with sales of £13.1m in 2021. But the sale of flavors such as mint, mango and creme brulee led to charges it was encouraging teen smokers.
Parents, politicians and anti-tobacco advocates wanted a ban on the devices that many blame for the rise in underage vaping. Supporters say they can help smokers cut back on regular cigarettes.
The FDA said Juul had failed to provide “sufficient evidence” that its devices helped people quit smoking.
Dr Robert Califf, FDA commissioner, said: “The agency has dedicated significant resources to review products from the companies that account for most of the US 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.”
The American Lung Association applauded the move: “Today’s decision is welcomed and long overdue. @FDATobacco made the right decision to end the sale of all Juul products including #menthol. They remain one of the most popular e-cigarettes among teens. Stopping these sales is an important step in ending the youth vaping epidemic,” it said on Twitter.
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study more than 2.5 million US students used a tobacco product of some sort in 2021 and 80% of tobacco use was attributable to disposable e-cigarettes and cartridge products, like a Juul.
About 2 million high-schoolers (13% of the study population) and 4% of middle-schoolers (470,000 participants) reported “current” tobacco use.
Last year, the agency rejected applications for more than a million other e-cigarettes and related products, mainly due to their potential appeal to underage teens.
To stay on the market, companies must show that their products benefit public health. In practice, that means proving that adult smokers who use the products are likely to quit or reduce their smoking, while teens are unlikely to get hooked on them.
The FDA has granted some e-cigarette applications, including tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes from RJ Reynolds, Logic and other companies.
But industry players and anti-tobacco advocates have complained that those products account for just a tiny percentage of the $6bn vaping market in the US.
Regulators repeatedly delayed making decisions on devices from market leaders, including Juul, which remains the best-selling vaping brand although sales have dipped. The company is expected to appeal the decision.
In a statement, Amanda Wheeler, president of the American Vapor Manufacturing Association, an industry trade group, said: “Measured in lives lost and potential destroyed, FDA’s staggering indifference to ordinary Americans and their right to switch to the vastly safer alternative of vaping will surely rank as one of the greatest episodes of regulatory malpractice in American history.”
Agencies contributed to this story