Nov. 15 (UPI) -- In the fight against the rise of underage tobacco use, the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday announced widespread regulations against e-cigarette and tobacco companies.
In a statement on the agency's website, Scott Gottlieb, FDA Commissioner, said the agency will limit sales of flavored e-cigarette pods to in-person stores with age restrictions for entry or areas within the store for customers older than 18. The FDA has also called for enhanced age verification for online stores.
The announcement comes just days after e-cigarette giant Juul decided to end its social media campaigns and sales of flavored e-cigarette pods in stores.
"We'll continue to base our actions on the best available science. And when it comes to protecting our youth, we'll continue to actively pursue a wide range of prevention and enforcement actions," Gottlieb said. "We'll leave no stone unturned."
In 2017, the FDA unveiled a comprehensive plan to regulate tobacco and nicotine products by cutting down the sale of flavored e-cigarette products marketed to kids. About 90 percent of adult smokers began smoking cigarettes before they turned 18.
The new restrictions address fears that youth e-cigarette use could lead to smoking normal cigarettes later in life.
According to data from the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey, e-cigarette use among high school students between 2017 and 2018 increased by 78 percent and among middle school students by 48 percent. During the same period, the number of both middle and high school students using e-cigarettes more than doubled, from 1.5 million to 3.6 million.
But Gottlieb has received some pushback from consumer groups.
"The administration promised less regulation -- without sacrificing protections," said Jeff Stier, a senior fellow at the Consumer Choice Center, the Washington Post reported. "So if the FDA fails to meet both objectives -- by announcing a heavy-handed regulatory plan -- President Trump should realize that the current leadership at the FDA is not equipped to implement the administration's policy agenda."
Special interest groups also question the legality of the FDA banning e-cigarette products in stores.
"I don't think they know where the law allows the FDA to ban hundreds of thousands of stores from selling a legal product," said Lyle Beckwith, senior vice president of the National Association of Convenience Stores, to the Washington Post.
The FDA plans to curb youth smoking have also reached normal tobacco products. The agency has proposed a ban on menthol cigarettes, saying that 54 percent of smokers age 12 to 17 prefer menthol cigarettes. This includes the fact that seven out of 10 black youth smokers select menthol cigarettes, according to the FDA.
"I believe these menthol-flavored products represent one of the most common and pernicious routes by which kids initiate on combustible cigarettes," Gottlieb said. "The menthol serves to mask some of the unattractive features of smoking that might otherwise discourage a child from smoking."
"If youth trends don't move in the right direction, we will revisit all of these issues," Gottlieb added.