FDA plans to restrict flavored e-cigarette sales, ban menthol cigarettes from market

The Food and Drug Administration plans to limit sales of most flavored e-cigarettes to vape shops and move forward with a ban on menthol cigarettes as it tries to curb “epidemic” levels of teen e-cigarette use, according to senior FDA officials, who asked not to be named because the proposal is not yet public.

Scott Gottlieb in September gave five e-cigarette manufacturers — Juul, British American Tobacco‘s Vuse, Altria‘s MarkTen, Imperial Brands‘ Blu E-cigs and Japan Tobacco‘s Logic — until Sunday to submit proposals on how to curb “epidemic” levels of youth e-cigarette use. He has said the FDA will share its own plan sometime mid-November. Senior officials said the agency plans to announce its plan next week.

The agency plans to prohibit sales of flavored cartridge-based e-cigarettes in convenience stores and gas stations, allowing them to be sold only in vape and tobacco shops that tend to enforce age restrictions better, the people said. The FDA also plans to ban online sales until manufacturers implement FDA-mandated guidelines for age verification, the people said. Gottlieb first raised the idea of this policy in an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box” in October.

The flavor restrictions will exclude menthol, meaning menthol vapor products will still be allowed to be sold in convenience stores and gas stations — until the FDA removes menthol cigarettes from the market. Officials worry that in removing menthol e-cigarettes from places where menthol cigarettes are sold, consumers might opt for conventional cigarettes.

This spring, the FDA took the first step toward implementing a rule that would ban menthol or other flavors from cigarette and e-cigarette products. The agency banned certain flavors in cigarettes in 2009, but menthol was excluded from those new rules, as were other tobacco products. Critics have repeatedly called for FDA to reverse this because research has shown kids are more attracted to flavored products.

The bans won’t take effect immediately. It would likely take weeks, if not months, for the FDA to adopt new rules and the changes to impact consumers.

E-cigarette manufacturers are expected to soon make public their proposals to the FDA, with the 60-day mark falling on Nov. 11. Altria has already said it will remove its MarkTen pod-based products and will stop selling all flavors except for menthol or tobacco in its cig-a-like products until the FDA reviews and approves them.

Preliminary data shows a 77 percent increase in high school students using e-cigarettes, Gottlieb told CNBC in October. The full study is expected to be released this month.

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