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story.lead_photo.caption Packages of “vape" liquids for e-cigarettes are displayed at the NXNW Vapor store in Sacramento, Calif. According to the Food and Drug Administration, more than 2 million middle and high school students last year reported using e-cigarettes.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently sent more than 1,300 warning letters and fined U.S. retailers for selling e-cigarette products to minors. Three Arkansas retailers were fined.

In what the FDA is calling its "largest coordinated enforcement effort," the agency investigated stores and online businesses this summer after finding evidence that "e-cigarette use among young people has hit epidemic proportions."

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the agency plans to take new steps to address the matter. In a news release Wednesday, the FDA asked five manufacturers of e-cigarette products -- Vuse, Blu, JUUL, MarkTenXL and Logic -- to implement plans to curb the underage use of their products.

If they don't comply, their products could be removed from store shelves, Gottlieb warned.

"We won't allow the current trends in youth access and use to continue, even if it means putting limits in place that reduce adult uptake of these products," he said.

The undercover investigation took place from June through the end of August, with the majority of violations involving the sale of products by the five manufacturers, which make up more than 97 percent of the U.S. e-cigarette market.

According to data published Wednesday, the FDA sent warning letters to 28 Arkansas retailers.

Targeted stores were scattered throughout the state, from the college towns of Fayetteville and Russellville to rural Turrell in Crittenden County and Alpena near Harrison. The list included several stores and gas stations, including Dollar General, Shell, Citgo and Exxon.

Three stores in Arkansas were fined $279 for sales of tobacco or e-cigarette products to minors. The fined stores were a Dixie Mart in Magnolia; a Flash Market in Siloam Springs; and a Valero Mini Mart in Russellville.

Store managers and corporate representatives of the retailers were either unavailable or declined to comment on Wednesday about the fines. More than a quarter of the Arkansas retailers that received warnings had a variation of the word "tobacco" or "vapor" on their storefronts.

According to the FDA, more than 2 million middle and high school students last year said they used e-cigarettes.

The agency said it's a major concern because "the developing adolescent brain is particularly vulnerable to nicotine addiction."

The appeal of e-cigarettes is that users are said to inhale far fewer toxins than cigarette smokers. However, e-cigarettes can deliver a higher nicotine content.

The FDA's main manufacturer target has been JUUL Labs. The company offers more potent nicotine hits in its products than competitors. In April, the FDA requested documents from JUUL that may shed light on whether the company marketed its products to younger audiences.

The JUUL device hit the market in 2015 and offers eight "pod" flavors including mango, mint, creme brulee and cucumber.

In Gottlieb's eyes, the flavored products that e-cigarette companies sell are part of the problem.

"I believe certain flavors are one of the principal drivers of the youth appeal of these products," Gottlieb said. "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."

Gottlieb said he plans in the coming weeks to debut additional enforcement actions targeting companies that may be marketing products to children in ways that are misleading.

In the spring, the agency issued more than 60 warning letters and fines to businesses that sold JUUL brand products to minors. None of the retailers was based in Arkansas.

"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," JUUL said Wednesday.

According to the company's website, the mission of JUUL products is to improve the lives of the world's 1 billion adult smokers. Above that message is a link to the company's youth-prevention efforts. Above that link is a bold, black and white banner warning users of the addictive properties of nicotine.

Business on 09/13/2018

Print Headline: E-cigarette sales to kids targeted

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