Juul warned over claims e-cigarette safer than smoking

Federal health authorities on Monday blasted vaping giant 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 on its marketing, educational programs and nicotine formula.

The FDA action increases the legal 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 is reviewing the FDA comments and “will fully cooperate.”

In a sternly worded warning letter, the FDA 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, the FDA said it is “concerned” that its 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.

The agency’s warning letter highlights an incident recounted by two New York high school students during a congressional hearing in July. The students said a representative of Juul was invited to address the school as part of an assembly on mental health and addiction issues. During the presentation, the students said the representative told them the company’s product was “totally safe.” The representative also showed students a Juul device and claimed the FDA “was about to come out and it was 99 percent safer than cigarettes.”

Juul says it discontinued its school programs — which were intended to discourage underage use — last September.

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