The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday announced sweeping new restrictions on flavored tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes popular among teenagers in an effort to prevent a new generation of nicotine addicts.
The much-anticipated announcement will mean that only tobacco, mint and menthol e-cigarette flavors can be sold at most traditional retail outlets such as convenience stores.
Other fruity- or sweet-flavored varieties can now only be sold at age-restricted stores or through online merchants that use age-verification checks.
The FDA also plans to seek a ban on menthol cigarettes, a longtime goal of public health advocates, as well as flavored cigars.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the moves are meant to prevent young people from continuing to use e-cigarettes, potentially leading to traditional cigarette smoking.
"We won’t let this pool of kids, a pool of future potential smokers, of future disease and death, to continue to build," he said. "I will not allow a generation of children to become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes," Gottlieb said.
The agency has faced mounting pressure to act on e-cigarettes amid their surging popularity among U.S. teenagers in recent years. One of the most popular devices, made by San Francisco-based Juul Labs Inc, has become a phenomenon at U.S. high schools, where “Juuling” has become synonymous with vaping.
Data released Thursday by the FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a 78 percent increase in high school students who reported using e-cigarettes in the last 30 days, compared with the prior year.
More than 3 million high school students, or more than 20 percent of all U.S. high school students, used the product, along with 570,000 middle school students, according to the survey.
Juul and tobacco giant Altria Group Inc had announced measures to pull flavored e-cigarette products from retail outlets, after the FDA threatened in September to ban Juul and other leading e-cigarette products unless their makers took steps to prevent use by minors.