FDA & FTC warn companies to stop making e-liquids that look like candy, cookies, juice boxes

BALTIMORE (WMAR) - Several companies are being warned that their e-liquids look too similar to kids' food products.

The Federal Trade Commission and Food and Drug Administration issued warning letters to 13 companies for misleadingly labeling products and advertising nicotine-containing e-liquids as kid friendly items.

One of the products, One Mad Hit Juice Box, appears to be packaged like a juice box, is labeled juice box, and has an apple flavor, however the juice isn't meant to be ingested. The list of ingredients includes nicotine, a highly addictive and potentially harmful substance.

E-liquids are fluids inserted into vape and e-cigarette products.

Other e-liquid products in violation resembled popular candies, cookies, and whipped cream.

During a call with reporters on Tuesday, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, said the packaging isn't just appealing to kids but could be confused by kids. 

Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, said it takes a very small amount of e-liquids, in some cases, less than half a teaspoon to have a fatal effect on a child; even less to make them very sick.

Six of the 13 companies were also cited with illegal sales to minors.

Dawn Berkowitz, director for the Center of Tobacco Prevention and Control for the Maryland Department of Health, believes the warnings are a good first step. She's seen an increase in nicotine addiction in children in the state and said flavored e-liquids play a role.

"About 90 percent of these kids who are using these products are using fruit and candy flavors, so it's a huge issue and it's a huge draw," Berkowitz said. "[Nicotine] changes the chemical make-up of your brain and it primes the brain for addiction, so youth are much more susceptible to becoming addicted not only to nicotine but to other harmful products like alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs."

Last year, a state survey found that the number of kids using e-cigarettes are almost double that of cigarette smokers. 

"These are kids who would never have smoked and they're becoming addicted to nicotine and we're finding kids who are using these electronic products are much more likely to become cigarette smokers in the future," said Berkowitz.

The companies have 15 days to report back to the FDA on how they plan to remedy the violations.

WMAR 2-News found that the products are still widely available for sale online. Some sites ask users to input their birth date but don't take additional measures to ensure the customer is 18 years of age or older.

Maryland has a statewide tobacco quit line. 1-800-QUITNOW is a free service for Marylanders 13 years and older and sponsored by the Maryland Department of Health.

Callers are also eligible to receive 12 weeks of free nicotine replacement therapy, such as patches and gum.  Additionally, there are special incentives for pregnant women who call.  You can find out more here.

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