Juul (copy)

A Juul starter kit costs $49.99 at the company’s website.

A group of 11 Democratic U.S. senators is applying pressure to the top-selling electronic cigarette maker and the Food and Drug Administration to tighten marketing of the products.

In particular, the senators want the FDA “to take immediate steps to ban kid-friendly candy and fruit flavorings that are used with e-cigarettes and cigars.”

The FDA has the authority to take such a step, but Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in August the agency chose to defer a decision from 2018 to 2022.

However, during testimony before Congress this week, Gottlieb indicated that the FDA is considering addressing soon how Juul is marketed.

Juul, based in San Francisco, entered the mainstream retail marketplace in 2015. It is sold in the form of a pen or a USB flash drive that’s easy to use and hide.

The senators sent a separate letter to Kevin Burns, chief executive of Juul Labs Inc., with questions that include how the product is marketed to children and teens and what ingredients are in the flavorings that accompany these devices.

The senators request Juul take self-imposed steps to limit youth use of their product.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in the letters that the sense of urgency comes in part in response to a New York Times story describing the popularity of Juul with high school students.

The Winston-Salem Journal ran two stories on the Juul marketing and sales phenomenon April 7, including how local high schools are reviewing their tobacco and nicotine policies for on-campus use.

“Your company’s popular vaping device and its accompanying flavored nicotine cartridges are undermining our nation’s efforts to reduce tobacco use among youth and putting an entire new generation of children at risk of nicotine addiction and other health consequences,” the senators said in the letter to Burns.

“Your company’s product purports to help people quit smoking cigarettes, yet we are concerned that Juul — with its kid-appealing design and flavorings — will only lead to further nicotine addiction and adverse health consequences.”

Burns said in a statement Wednesday the company “takes this matter very seriously.”

“I have been giving these issues a great deal of thought and we are finalizing a plan for new initiatives and actions Juul Labs will be taking, which I look forward to sharing in the coming weeks.

“I share the concerns expressed in this letter about youth access and believe no young person should ever try Juul,” Burns said.

The senators urged FDA to end the delay on enhanced e-cig regulations.

“It is imperative that the FDA take immediate steps to remove kid-friendly e-cigarette and cigar flavorings from the market,” the senators said.

“If companies want to use flavors, they should be required to demonstrate to the FDA that use of flavors will benefit public health.

“If we wait four more years to act, we will have doomed countless more children to addiction and adverse health consequences at the hands of big tobacco companies.”

A Juul starter kit costs $49.99 online. It includes a rechargeable Juul device, a USB charger, a warranty, and a four-pack of the flavored Juul pods.

After ramping up production in 2017, Juul overtook Vuse of R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co. in November and had since sped away to a 54.6 percent market share in March, according to Nielsen data.

Meanwhile, Vuse went from a 36.4 percent market share in March 2017 to 19.3 percent in March 2018.

“I suspect others in the nicotine/tobacco business are watching Juul very carefully because it appears to be an effective and appealing product (design and nicotine delivery), which they would want to emulate,” said Ray Niaura, an expert on tobacco dependence and treatment at NYU College of Global Public Health.

“It’s also attracting a lot of scrutiny from the traditional tobacco control community. So far, there’s sensational, but purely anecdotal evidence, that teens like this product.

“This makes sense ... it’s impossible to make anything that would appeal only to adults,” Niaura said.

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rcraver@wsjournal.com 336-727-7376 @rcraverWSJ

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