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Wednesday, December 19 Local

Connecticut retailers nailed in nationwide FDA e-cig sting

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has sent out 1,300 warning letters and fines to retailers — including at least eight in Connecticut — who illegally sold e-cigarette products to minors during a nationwide undercover operation. The FDA also sent letters to the biggest e-cigarette brands, urging them to take action to prevent use by young people, or risk having some of their products pulled.

Those penalized include the Market at Ridgefield Mobil in Ridgefield, as well as stores in Waterbury, Hartford, West Hartford, Lisbon, Vernon and Plainfield.

Because of these violations — and other indications that e-cigarette use among youth has hit epidemic proportions - FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, said that the agency intends to take new and significant steps to address this challenge in a speech at the agency’s headquarters.

“We’re committed to the comprehensive approach to address addiction to nicotine that we announced last year,” he said. “But at the same time, we see clear signs that youth use of electronic cigarettes has reached an epidemic proportion, and we must adjust certain aspects of our comprehensive strategy to stem this clear and present danger. This starts with the actions we’re taking today to crack down on retail sales of e-cigarettes to minors.”

The warning letters and fines to retailers announced Wednesday were part of a large-scale blitz to crack down on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors at both brick-and-mortar and online retailers, which was conducted from June through the end of August.

The vast majority of the violations were for the illegal sale of five e-cigarette products - Vuse, Blu, JUUL, MarkTen XL, and Logic. These five brands currently comprise over 97 percent of the U.S. market for e-cigarettes.

The FDA has issued letters to the manufacturers of these five brands, asking each company to submit to FDA within 60 days plans describing how they will address the widespread youth access and use of their products. If they fail to do so, or if the plans do not appropriately address this issue, the FDA could take such actions as requiring these brands to remove some or all of their flavored products until they receive pre-market authorization and otherwise meet all of their obligations under the law.

Some of the e-cigarette companies responded to the FDA’s actions, including JUUL.

“JUUL Labs will work proactively with FDA in response to its request,” read a statement from a company spokesperson. “We are committed to preventing underage use of our product, and we want to be part of the solution in keeping e-cigarettes out of the hands of young people. Our mission is to improve the lives of adult smokers by providing them with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes. Appropriate flavors play an important role in helping adult smokers switch. By working together, we believe we can help adult smokers while preventing access to minors, and we will continue to engage with the FDA to fulfill our mission.”

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Blu also issued a statement, saying it was “evaluating today’s request and statement from the FDA. On youth access, we have common aims. We welcome the opportunity to demonstrate, and work with the FDA to further strengthen, our youth access prevention policies and procedures.”

In addition to its other actions, on Wednesday the FDA also issued 12 warning letters to other online retailers that are selling misleadingly labeled and/or advertised e-liquids resembling kid-friendly food products such as candy and cookies.

Over the past several years, e-cigarettes were the most commonly used tobacco product by youth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Youth Tobacco Survey, more than 2 million middle and high school students were current users of e-cigarettes in 2017.

Amanda Cuda|Reporter, Sunday reporter/editor

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