TUESDAY, May 1, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday warned the makers of e-cigarette liquids that are packaged to look like juice boxes, candies and cookies to stop selling their products.
The action, taken in concert with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, also cited some of these companies for illegally selling these products to minors. In all, 13 warning letters were issued.
"Today's announcement should send a clear signal that companies selling these products have a responsibility to ensure they are not putting children in harm's way or enticing youth use," FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said during a morning media briefing.
"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," Gottlieb added in a statement.
"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," Gottlieb added. "These are preventable accidents that have the potential to result in serious harm or even death."
In fact, the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes has coincided with an increase in calls to poison control centers and visits to emergency rooms for e-cigarette liquid poisoning and other nicotine exposure, the agency noted.
A recent analysis showed there were a total of 8,269 e-cigarette and liquid nicotine exposures among children younger than 6 between January 2012 and April 2017, according to the FDA.
Children are at greater risk because even relatively small amounts of nicotine could result in acute toxicity, the agency noted. Small children who are exposed to e-cigarette liquid or ingest it can die from cardiac arrest, as well as experience seizures, comas and respiratory arrest.
"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," Gottlieb said.
"While we continue to encourage the development of potentially less harmful forms of nicotine delivery for currently addicted adult smokers, we will not allow that work to come at the expense of our children," Gottlieb stressed.
He also noted that the agency will continue to curb the sale of e-cigarette products to minors.
Just last week, the FDA announced a nationwide undercover blitz targeting the illegal sale of the wildly popular Juul brand of electronic cigarettes to minors.
Juul e-cigarettes look like computer flash drives and have become a favorite of teenagers. They contain high levels of nicotine and emit vapors that are hard to see or detect.
But teenagers aren't the only ones at risk with e-cigarette products. Young children can accidentally ingest e-cigarette liquids after being drawn to the colorful packaging and fruity flavors of these products.
"Protecting young children from unwarranted health and safety risks is one of our highest priorities," acting FTC Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen said in a statement. "Nicotine is highly toxic, and these letters make clear that marketing methods that put kids at risk of nicotine poisoning are unacceptable."
"The e-liquid boxes not only look like these foods [that young children already consume], they carry their scent," she added during the media briefing. "Even worse, the scent is detectable even without opening the package. One manufacturer even included a lollypop as part of the package."
The companies targeted by the warning letters have 15 days to inform both federal agencies what they are doing to address the concerns about sales to minors. If they fail to do so, they could face seizure of their products or an injunction order, the FDA said.
Visit the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse for more on the dangers of e-cigarettes.