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Federal regulators have issued warning letters to several manufacturers of e-cigarette liquid, over marketing of the products in a way that resembles a children’s food or candy.
The 13 warning letters, were sent on May 1, as part of a joint effort by both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and were directed to manufacturers, distributors, and retailers of e-liquid products used in e-cigarettes that closely resemble candy or other food products intended for children.
The warning letters cited the companies for intentionally using packaging and advertising that appealed to children, which is a violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act as well as Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.
The companies sell products with labeling or advertising that closely resembles products intended for children, like juice boxes, candy, or cookies. Some of the products have cartoon images and one product is even sold with a lollipop.
Critics say the advertising strategy seems to be a direct marketing ploy aimed at the nation’s children. Possibly as a result, e-cigarettes are now the most popular form of tobacco among America’s youth.
Some of the companies that were issued warning letters were also cited for illegally selling the products to minors.
The warning letters issued Tuesday call on companies to respond within 15 working days and indicate what the company plans to do to address the concerns regarding sales and marketing to minors. Failure to respond and correct the violations can result in further actions such as seizure or injunction.
“No child should be using any tobacco product, and no tobacco products should be marketed in a way that endangers kids – especially by using imagery that misleads them into thinking the products are things they’d eat or drink,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. “The FDA remains committed to important efforts to restrict youth access, limit youth appeal and reduce toxic exposure to youth from all tobacco products – and we’ll continue to address these issues from every angle.”
The products cited by the two agencies are easy for children to confuse with a safe products they may have consumed in the past, the agencies warned.
For example, One Mad Hit Juice Box closely resembles Tree Top-brand children’s apple juice boxes. Vape Heads Sour Smurf Sauce looks like the packaging for War Heads candies. Similarly, V’Nilla Cookies & Milk resembles Nilla Wafer and Golden Oreo cookies. Twirly Pop not only resembles Unicorn Pop lollipop, it is also sold with one.
Recent reports warn thousands of children are experiencing poisonings after mistakenly consuming e-cigarette liquid. More than 1,400 exposures were logged for the first half of 2014 and liquid nicotine exposures increased 1500% between 2013 and 2015.
Children exposed to liquid nicotine often face serious side effects, requiring medical treatment and hospital admission. In some cases, the children even face death.
Agency officials emphasized that side effects from e-cigarette liquid poisonings are entirely preventable and manufacturers and retailers have an obligation to ensure their products or selling practices aren’t putting children and teens in harm’s way.
Additionally, it is important to keep children and teens from trying e-cigarettes, officials say. Once teens try e-cigarettes, their risk of smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes increases greatly, according to recent research.
The warning letters were a part of the larger FDA Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan rolled out recently. Under the plan, the agency targeted JUUL products last week, launching a large-scale crack down on retailers who sell the USB-like products to underage buyers.
“Nicotine is highly toxic, and these letters make clear that marketing methods that put kids at risk of nicotine poisoning are unacceptable,” said acting FTC Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen.
FDA officials say the agency plans to take more action in the future under the Youth Tobacco Plan.