Increasing E-Cigarette Sales to Minors Prompts FDA to Crack Down


E-cigarettes can be beneficial tool for smoking cessation, but the use of e-cigarettes in minors can be dangerous.

E-cigarettes can be beneficial tool for smoking cessation, but the use of e-cigarettes in minors can be dangerous. Despite the health risks associated with high levels of nicotine found in the e-cigarette pods, JUUL, a discrete e-cigarette designed to look like a USB flash drive, has become increasingly popular among youth.

JUUL is a rechargeable battery powered device that works by heating a mixture of flavored liquid and nicotine. The liquid becomes aerosolized for inhalation, with nicotine salts making it possible to inhale large quantities of nicotine without irritation, according to a statement released from the CDC.1

From 2016 to 2017, JUUL sales increased by more than 7-fold, growing to hold the highest share of the US e-cigarette market by the end of 2017, according to a CDC analysis of JUUL retail sales data, published by JAMA.1

In 2013, there was no single e-cigarette dominating the market, but by 2014, British American Tobacco e-cigarettes sales had increased by 146%, and remained on top until 2017. From 2016 to 2017, JUUL took over with a rapid jump, from 2.2 million devices sold in 2016 to 16.2 million devices sold in 2017, a total increase of 641%. By the end of 2017, JUUL made up 1 out of every 3 e-cigarette sales, making it the largest e-cigarette market in the United States, according to the CDC.1

The rapid growth in JUUL sales is alarming, according to the CDC, as many of these purchases are being made by or for underage users, who are more susceptible to the health risks of e-cigarettes. High levels of nicotine found in JUUL are dangerous for children, as nicotine is both highly addictive and it can harm brain development up until their mid-20s. The CDC notes that 74% of youth who used JUUL reported directly buying the device from a retail store, according to the statement.1

“The popularity of JUUL among kids threatens our progress in reducing youth e-cigarette use,” said Robert Redfield, MD, CDC director, in a prepared statement. “We are alarmed that these new high nicotine content e-cigarettes, marketed and sold in kid-friendly flavors, are so appealing to our nation’s young people.”1

The CDC warns that e-cigarette use in unsafe for children, teenagers, and adults, and the U.S. Surgeon general has named e-cigarette use among youth and young adults a public health concern. In order to address this concern, the FDA is cracking down on illegal sales of e-cigarettes to youth and marketing that’s centered around targeting youth.1

The FDA recently conducted a nationwide undercover blitz, both in stores and online, and they are issuing more than 1,300 warning letters and civil money penalty complaints to retail stores that were found illegally selling JUUL and other e-cigarettes to minors.2 The agency also issued 12 warnings to online retailers selling e-cigarettes that were mislabeled or advertised as kid friendly food products, such as candy and cookies.3 In addition, the FDA is requiring JUUL and 4 other popular e-cigarette brands to submit an outlined plan to address the easy access of their products to youth, according to a statement from the FDA.2

The FDA is forming a comprehensive plan on the regulation of nicotine and tobacco to prevent the use of cigarettes and e-cigarettes in youth, while still keeping these products accessible for adults as a cigarette alternative, according to the statement.2

“While we remain committed to advancing policies that promote the potential of e-cigarettes to help adult smokers move away from combustible cigarettes, that work can’t come at the expense of kids,” said Scott Gottlieb, MD, FDA Commissioner. “We cannot allow a whole new generation to become addicted to nicotine.”

The FDA released an additional statement announcing their investigation of more than 40 products, including flavored e-cigarette products, from 21 e-cigarette companies. Officials believe these products are being illegally marketed outside of FDA policy.


  • Sales of JUUL E-cigarettes Skyrocket, Posing Danger to Youth. CDC Newsroom. CDC. October 2, 2018. Accessed October 2, 2018.
  • FDA Takes New Steps to Address Epidemic of Youth E-Cigarette Use, Including a Historic Action Against More than 1300 Retailers and 5 Major Manufacturers for their Roles Perpetuating Youth Access. FDA News Release. FDA. Accessed October 2, 2018.
  • FDA Advances Investigation into whether more than 40 e-cigarette products are being illegally marketed and outside agency's compliance policy. FDA News Release. FDA. October 12, 2018. Accessed October 12, 2018.

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