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By Maggie Fox
The Food and Drug Administration is preparing to strictly limit sales of flavored electronic cigarette products to try to keep them out of reach of children and adolescents, an FDA official told NBC News on Thursday.
As guidance that will be issued next week, the FDA will restrict sales of flavored vaping products, based on cartridges, such as Juul, to only tobacco and vape stores.
"We are going to restrict the ability of electronic cigarette manufacturers to sell flavored products in convenience stores," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"Fruity products can only be sold in adult stores, so tobacco shops, vaping stores, of which there are 10,000 in the country."
FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said he is alarmed by what he calls a vaping outbreak by teenagers and younger children.
Especially worrisome is the increase in the use of products based on cartridges like Juul, which supply a strong dose of nicotine alone with flavors in a discreet and easy to hide device.
"This will only apply to cartridge-based systems so they do not affect open-topped vaping systems in general," the official said.
"Adults use open vaping systems with pencils, and children generally use cartridge-based systems."
The Washington Post reported the FDA's plans for the first time on Thursday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Thursday that adult smoking rates have fallen to their lowest level, at 14 percent. But the CDC found that 47.4 million American adults, or 19 percent of the adult population, use any tobacco product, including cigarettes, cigarettes or electronic cigarettes.
Public health experts have complained that the fruit and candy-like flavors found in electronic cigarettes are aimed directly at children and adolescents.
The FDA has also expressed concern about online sales to teenagers. In September, the FDA made an unexpected visit to the Juul headquarters to look for evidence about the company's marketing practices. In April, the agency launched what it called "bombing" to prevent retailers from selling vaping products to underage children. And he has warned several online sites about sales.
Next week, the FDA will do more, the official said.
"We are also going to restrict online sales only to sites that implement specific age verification measures and limit access to the children that we are going to specify in the guide," the official said.
"This is only the first step, we will consider other steps if the use does not go down, and abruptly."
The action of the FDA will not affect menthol or mint-flavored products. That's because, according to the official, has not been able to limit the use of menthol in traditional cigarettes and fuels.
"We do not want to create a situation in which the combustible products have characteristics that make them more attractive than electronic cigarettes," said the official.
"In the foreseeable future, we will allow menthol to remain in electronic cigarettes."
Public health groups, such as the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the Truth Initiative, and the Cancer Action Network of the American Cancer Society, They have urged the FDA to move faster and eliminate Juul from the market until it undergoes an FDA review.
Both the FDA and the CDC say it is not clear whether electronic cigarettes are safer than smoking burned tobacco, but agree that nicotine in both is highly addictive and that teenagers should not use them either.