(The Hill) — Anti-smoking advocates said they are cautiously optimistic following a report that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is preparing to remove Juul’s vaping products from U.S. shelves. The move from FDA, as reported Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal, would bring an end to the two-year review of the company’s request to sell tobacco and menthol flavored e-cigarettes.
If the report is true, “it’s most welcome and long overdue,” said Erika Sward, American Lung Association’s national assistant vice president of advocacy.
“What I’m hoping is that this will be the beginning of a number of situations where FDA rejects the applications for companies that are clearly not interested in being appropriate for the protection of public health,” Sward said.
A decision has not been publicly announced, and an FDA spokeswoman said the agency had no information to share.
The FDA has faced growing pressure to regulate vaping as e-cigarette use has skyrocketed among youth and teenagers, worrying parents and health experts about their ingestion of the nicotine-based product.
In 2020, the FDA required all e-cigarette and vaping companies to submit applications to continue marketing products. The agency has been reviewing applications from manufacturers ever since.
The agency also banned the sale of all vaping flavors aside from tobacco and nicotine, and has not allowed any companies to legally sell flavors.
Juul’s popularity soared in 2018, but the company’s fruity flavors were widely blamed for hooking teenagers and young kids onto vaping.
Tobacco giant Altria, which sells Marlboro, Virginia Slims and Parliament cigarettes in the United States, invested $12.8 billion for a 35 percent stake in Juul in 2018. But the move has not paid off. At the end of last year, Altria said its Juul investment was worth less than $2 billion.
Altria’s shares took a tumble following the Journal’s report, closing down more than 9 percent.
“Juul, more than any other product and any other company, has been responsible for creating and fueling the youth e-cigarette epidemic. If these reports are accurate, this would be the most significant action the FDA has taken to date to end the youth e-cigarette epidemic and stop tobacco companies from using these nicotine-loaded products to addict another generation of kids,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.
Juul took its fruit- and mint-flavored nicotine pods off the market in 2019. The FDA’s reasoning for banning Juul will likely be that it has no benefit to public health, and the threat to young non-smokers is much larger than any possible benefit to adult smokers.
In September, FDA missed a deadline to decide which e-cigarette products can stay on the market.
In the run-up to the deadline, FDA said it made decisions on more than 90 percent of the new tobacco products that were submitted, rejecting applications of more than 300 companies to sell more than 6 million products, mainly due to their potential appeal to underage teens.
But regulators delayed making decisions on most of the major vaping companies, including Vuse and Juul.
Vaping advocates have railed against FDA’s efforts to regulate the industry, which they argue helps people transition away from traditional, and more harmful, cigarettes.
Removing Juul from the market would be “the latest sorry example of the agency’s campaign of regulatory arson against the nicotine vaping products that millions of Americans rely on as an alternative to cigarettes,” Amanda Wheeler, president of the American Vapor Manufacturers Association, said in a statement.
“This shameful decision is hard proof that no matter how deeply resourced or how meticulous the research in the market application, FDA is hellbent to arbitrarily crush the most widely used vaping products preferred by adult Americans,” Wheeler said.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the FDA announced plans to severely limit the levels of nicotine that tobacco companies can place in traditional cigarettes in an attempt to make them less addictive.
“Because tobacco-related harms primarily result from addiction to products that repeatedly expose users to toxins, FDA would take this action to reduce addictiveness to certain tobacco products, thus giving addicted users a greater ability to quit,” the FDA said.