The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has sent out warning letters to online retailers carrying e-cigarettes to address illegal sales to minors. The move comes a month after the agency formally banned the sale of e-cigarettes to those below 18 years old.
To be clear, this does not mean that the recipients have been caught selling to those underage. Rather, they are given 15 days to submit a reply to the FDA after receipt of their letters, explaining how they intend to prevent future sales to minors. Online retailers who will violate the FDA's new rule will be fined $275.
"Retailers play a vital role in keeping harmful and addictive tobacco products out of the hands of children and we urge them to take that responsibility seriously," said Mitch Zeller, J.D., director of the Center for Tobacco Products at the FDA.
The American Vaping Association, however, has decried the FDA sending these warning letters as the agency has not offered compliance guidelines for online retailers to follow. Specifically, this makes it difficult to identify an appropriate age-verification platform. In brick-and-mortar stores, buyers are to provide a photo ID for age verification.
The FDA has inspected some 8,700 brick-and-mortar stores from Aug. 8 to 31.
According to Wells Fargo, the e-cigarette market is estimated to be worth $4 billion.
E-Cigarette Use In Teens
A group of researchers from the University of Michigan carried out a study to determine what drives teens to use e-cigarettes. Based on their findings, which was published in a study in the journal Tobacco Control, about 65 percent students between the eighth and 12th grades are using e-cigarettes for their flavor, with strawberry and chocolate as favorites.
On the other hand, about 13 percent of eighth graders and 20 percent of those in the 10th and 12th grades do it for the nicotine.
E-cigarettes are heavily marketed as healthier alternatives to tobacco cigarettes but Center for Tobacco Control at Northwell Health's Patricia Folan warned against their use.
"Even without nicotine, inhaled products that contain flavorings can be damaging to the lung tissue and would not be considered safe for adolescents or adults," she said.
The FDA Rule On E-Cigarettes
The new rule was set in place to protect the youth by limiting their access to e-cigarettes and tobacco products in general. The use of tobacco cigarettes in the youth has dropped in the past 10 years but teen use has spiked for other tobacco products, like e-cigarettes. In fact, e-cigarette use in high school students has jumped from 2011's 1.5 percent to 2015's 16 percent, an over 900-percent increase.
Based on the new FDA rule, e-cigarettes may not be sold those below 18 years old. If they will be sold in vending machines, these vending machines must be located in adults-only facilities to restrict access.