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“Misleading” Marketing – FDA warns parents that E-Cigarette liquid nicotine packaging could be enticing to children

The FDA is cracking down on nicotine use by minors. In a joint release Tuesday, the agency announced it, along with the Federal Trade Commission, has taken steps to reprimand makers of certain e-cigarette liquid for what they say is "misleading" marketing. They believe the packaging on the products in question may entice children into mistakenly ingesting it, or encourage underage people to try to buy it.

Do the photos above look like juice, candy, or whipped cream to you? The FDA thinks the side-by-side photos show that "companies misleadingly labeled or advertised nicotine-containing e-liquids as kid friendly food products."

On Tuesday, the agency sent thirteen warning letters to the companies in question, citing alleged Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act violations that included being false or misleading, marketing tobacco products in combination with any other FDA regulated product, unfair or deceptive marketing, and in some cases, sales to minors online.

The agencies want the companies to stop the labelling, have requested the companies explain their actions to address the concerns, and ask for a response within 15 working days. The warning letters also state that failure to correct violations may result in other steps, like seizure or court action.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., said in a news release:

“No child should be using any tobacco product, and no tobacco products should be marketed in a way that endangers kids – especially by using imagery that misleads them into thinking the products are things they’d eat or drink. Looking at these side-to-side comparisons is alarming. It is easy to see how a child could confuse these e-liquid products for something they believe they’ve consumed before – like a juice box. These are preventable accidents that have the potential to result in serious harm or even death. Companies selling these products have a responsibility to ensure they aren’t putting children in harm’s way or enticing youth use, and we’ll continue to take action against those who sell tobacco products to youth and market products in this egregious fashion.”

“Protecting young children from unwarranted health and safety risks is one of our highest priorities,” said Acting FTC Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen. “Nicotine is highly toxic, and these letters make clear that marketing methods that put kids at risk of nicotine poisoning are unacceptable.”

Ann Slattery, Managing Director of the Poison Control Center at Children's of Alabama, said this also concerns her.

She said a potentially life-threatening dose of e-liquid, for a young child, is less than a teaspoon in size. She said the center received 58 calls for e-cigarette liquid exposure in 2017, 79 in 2016, and 117 in 2014. While the number has been decreasing over the years, she said labelling that looks like food could be confusing for a child.

This is a reason why you won't find the products in question on the shelves at Twickenham Vapor in Huntsville. One man we spoke with said many in the vaping community pay attention to these kinds of products and are on the lookout for possible irresponsible branding.

"Companies will send us things, and let us try and see if we want to sell them," said Daniel Bedford Aldridge at Twickenham Vapor. "Typically if they have anything that looks like a soda can, anything questionable like that, we typically try to stay away from as much as possible. And anything that may be potentially enticing to children."

At the store, Daniel Bedford Aldridge says they educate customers about vaping. "There's a lot of things you need to know in order to have a fairly decent experience," he noted.

He said their message includes safety reminders.

"You don't need it anywhere near the kids," he cautioned. "Don't put it near anything they may be grabbing for." He added, "Just be responsible like you would do with any household cleaner, alcohol, or anything like that."

Aldridge says the vaping community has often clashed with the FDA on various issues surrounding the activity, which is growing in popularity, but they can all agree that having chemicals into the hands of children is a bad idea.

Experts say you should always keep these products in the original packaging so young kids aren't confused. But the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission worry, if this branding continues, that could be easier said than done. For more about keeping potentially harmful products from children's reach, click here.

Calling 911 is the number one way to get medical attention fast, but the FDA recommends also adding the poison control "HELP" number to your phone. That's 1(800) 222-1222.