By Jamie Ducharme
April 18, 2018

A group of senators wants answers from JUUL Labs — and regulations from the FDA — regarding the company’s popular e-cigarette, which has been criticized for its appeal to kids and teenagers.

A cohort of 11 lawmakers, led by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, on Wednesday sent letters to both JUUL CEO Kevin Burns and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb regarding the youth appeal of the company’s vaping devices, which resemble flash drives and come in flavors including mango, fruit medley, and creme brûlée. Each JUUL pod, which lasts about 200 puffs, contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.

E-cigs cannot be legally purchased by minors, and JUUL representatives have repeatedly said they do not condone youth use of their products and limit their online sales to those 21 and older. Nonetheless, “Juuling” has become a widespread problem in schools, prompting the senators to assert in their letter to Burns that JUUL products are “undermining our nation’s efforts to reduce tobacco use among youth and putting an entire new generation of children at risk of nicotine addiction and other health consequences.”

The letters, which come just weeks after a study found that vaping may prompt young people to start smoking, were co-signed by senators Sherrod Brown, Richard Blumenthal, Chuck Schumer, Patty Murray, Tom Udall, Chris Van Hollen, Jack Reed, Ed Markey, Elizabeth Warren, and Tim Kaine.

The letter to Burns puts forth 12 questions the senators are looking for JUUL to answer by April 30. Topics include whether JUUL will discontinue its kid-friendly flavors, how many of its products are sold to children younger than 18, and what the formulas are for each of its different pods.

Burns, the CEO of JUUL Labs, said he is taking the letter “very seriously.”

“I have been giving these issues a great deal of thought and we are finalizing a plan for new initiatives and actions JUUL Labs will be taking, which I look forward to sharing in the coming weeks. I share the concerns expressed in this letter about youth access and believe no young person should ever try JUUL,” he said in a statement.

In the letter to Gottlieb, which closely mirrors that sent to Burns, the senators demand faster and more comprehensive e-cigarette regulations from the FDA. While the lawmakers praised an FDA advanced notice of proposed rule-making that would regulate e-cig flavors, they write that they are “very concerned that…the FDA is not acting quickly enough to protect our nation’s youth from becoming addicted to these dangerous products,” adding that it is “imperative that the FDA take immediate steps to remove kid-friendly e-cigarette and cigar flavorings from the market.”

A spokesperson for the FDA said the agency is “deeply concerned about the youth use of e-cigarettes” and is working on some possible solutions to limit access teens have to the vaping devices. “You’ll see the agency stepping harder into this fight very soon,” the spokesperson added.

In addition to their potential appeal to kids, e-cigarette flavorings have been highlighted for their potential risk to human health. A 2015 study, for example, found they may cause a respiratory illness nicknamed “popcorn lung.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also notes that some of the chemicals used in e-cigs may be cancer-causing.

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