FDA Warns Stores in Crackdown on E-Cigarette Sales to Minors

(Bloomberg) -- Federal regulators began a crackdown on sales of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products to children under the age of 18, issuing warning letters to 55 retailers across the U.S.

Drugstores, convenience stores and online outlets violated prohibitions on selling children and teens newly regulated tobacco products including cigars, hookah tobacco and liquids for vaping devices, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday in a statement. Minors were able to buy some products in “youth-appealing flavors,” such as bubble gum, cotton candy and gummy bear, the agency said.

High school students’ use of e-cigarettes rose more than 10-fold between 2011 and 2015, according to data from the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Strict FDA regulations went into effect Aug. 8 on sales of tobacco products to minors that require retailers to check for a government ID for anyone under 27.

“Retailers play a vital role in keeping harmful and addictive tobacco products out of the hands of children,” said Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, in a statement. “It’s clear from these initial compliance checks that there’s a need for strong federal enforcement of these important youth access restrictions.”

Drugstores, Online Outlets

Retailers receiving warnings included drugstores in the Deerfield, Illinois-based Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. chain and the Rite Aid Corp. chain, along with online sellers such as Hookah Town.

“Our local management team is taking this as an opportunity, and will immediately visit with the entire store team and go over the aforementioned procedures and policies,” Camp Hill, Pennsylvania-based Rite Aid said in an e-mailed statement.

Hookah Town is looking for better ways to verify customers’ ages and prevent sales to minors, founder Nathan Mark said by telephone. Jim Graham, a spokesman for Walgreens Boots, declined to comment.

Further actions, including fines, will be issued to retailers if violations continue to occur, the FDA said in the statement.