The Federal Trade Commission has joined the list of federal regulators and lawmakers asking for more sales and marketing details from the top-six electronic-cigarette manufacturers.
The agency sent the request Thursday to Juul Labs, Inc., R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co, Fontem US, Inc., Logic Technology Development LLC, Nu Mark LLC and NJoy LLC. It did not set a response deadline.
Juul makes top-selling and controversial Juul, while Reynolds Vapor makes No. 2 Vuse and Fontem makes blu eCigs. Nu Mark was the e-cig manufacturer for Altria Group Inc. before it ended production in 2018 as part of spending $12.8 billion to acquire a 35% ownership stake in Juul Labs.
The requested information is for the years 2015-18 and will focus on sales, advertising and promotional practices. The review will be similar in nature to previous FTC studies on traditional cigarettes, moist snuff and other smokeless tobacco products.
In particular, the FTC wants:
- Annual data on the sales and giveaways of e-cigarette products;
- Information about the characteristics of e-cigarette products, such as product flavors; annual amounts the companies spent on advertising and promoting e-cigarette products; and
- Information about e-cigarette product placement, the websites and social media accounts used to advertise or sell e-cigarettes, affiliate programs, influencer marketing and college campus programs.
The FTC order comes as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that its latest update on vaping-related illness has exceeded 1,000 nationwide with at least 18 related deaths.
Most who got sick said they vaped products containing THC, the marijuana ingredient that causes a high, but some said they vaped only nicotine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 1,080 confirmed and probable cases have been reported in 48 states and one U.S. territory as of Tuesday afternoon. The count includes 18 deaths in 15 states.
The CDC has said its investigation is focused primarily on open-pod e-cigarettes in which liquids containing the marijuana compound THC are being vaped. The CDC has not confirmed whether the problem stems from THC or from thickeners added to the vaping liquid.
There have been few incidents reported involving the closed-pod e-cigarettes sold by Juul, Vuse, blu eCigs and NJoy.
However, the CDC advises Americans to consider avoiding all vaping products, though the agency recently added the phrase “particularly those containing THC.”
Banning most flavors of e-cigarettes from the retail marketplace — recommended forcefully by President Donald Trump — has prompted two main responses from analysts and advocates.
One is cautious celebration that the removal process has gained such high-profile support, particularly since the Food and Drug Administration was ordered by a federal judge July 12 to accelerate its regulatory oversight over e-cigarettes by May.
Although the removal process could start within months, it likely will take several years for the FDA to work though the expected legal challenges from tobacco manufacturers and advocates.
The other reaction is that several studies have demonstrated that some flavored e-cigarettes are helping to wean smokers from traditional cigarettes.
On Aug. 22, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce committee sent letters to letters Juul, Reynolds Vapor, Fontem and Logic.
Committee chairman Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., requested details on “each of the companies’ research into the public health impacts of their products, their marketing practices and their role in the promotion of e-cigarette use by adolescents.” The manufacturers were asked to respond by Sept. 20.
Those questions include:
- Reports on any adverse experiences by users of the companies’ products;
- Whether the manufacturers are marketing the products as smoking-cessation products;
- Sales information for all the companies’ products since January 2016;
- Details on promotional and marketing research; and
- A list of all social media influencers the companies have paid to market their products and any handles and usernames for social media bots that the companies use to market their products.
In May, N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein filed a lawsuit against Juul over accusations that it targets underage youths with its products. He added eight lesser-known e-cigarette makers to his legal complaint in August.