WASHINGTON — Federal health authorities on Monday blasted vaping company Juul for illegally pitching its electronic cigarettes as a safer alternative to smoking and ordered the company to stop making unproven claims for its products.
The Food and Drug Administration also upped its scrutiny of a number of key aspects of Juul’s business, telling the company to turn over documents about its marketing, educational programs and nicotine formula.
The FDA action increases the pressure on the nation’s best-selling vaping company, which has been besieged by scrutiny from state and federal officials since a recent surge in underage vaping. Federal law bans sales to those under 18. The FDA has been investigating Juul for months but had not previously taken action against the company.
A Juul spokesman said the company “will fully cooperate” with the FDA.
In a sternly worded warning letter, the agency flagged various claims made by Juul representatives, including that its products are “much safer than cigarettes.” Currently no vaping product has been federally reviewed to be less harmful than traditional tobacco products, and that won’t happen for a while.
In the past year, Juul has tried to position its e-cigarettes as a tool to help adult smokers stop smoking, using the tagline “Make the Switch.” In a separate letter to the company’s CEO, the FDA said it is “concerned” that the advertising campaign suggests “that using Juul products poses less risk or is less harmful than cigarettes.”
“JUUL has ignored the law, and very concerningly, has made some of these statements in school to our nation’s youth,” said FDA acting commissioner Ned Sharpless, in a statement.
Juul says it discontinued its school programs — which were intended to discourage underage use — last September.
FDA warning letters are not legally binding, but regulators can take companies to court if they don’t comply with their requests. Juul has 15 business days to respond with a plan for fixing the problems.
Most experts agree the aerosol from e-cigarettes is less harmful than cigarette smoke because it doesn’t contain most of the cancer-causing byproducts of burning tobacco. E-cigarettes generally heat liquid containing nicotine. But there is virtually no research on the long-term effects of vaping.
The recent outbreak of lung illnesses mostly involves people who said they vaped marijuana.