FTC seeks data on advertising and sales for e-cigarette companies

US regulator appears to be taking first steps in a larger investigation of marketing practices by vaping firms.

    A demonstrator vapes during a protest at the Massachusetts State House against the state's four-month ban on all vaping product sales [Brian Snyder/Reuters]
    A demonstrator vapes during a protest at the Massachusetts State House against the state's four-month ban on all vaping product sales [Brian Snyder/Reuters]

    The United States Federal Trade Commission has ordered a half-dozen e-cigarette companies to turn over sales and advertising data, the federal regulator said on Thursday in the first sign of a likely probe into the companies' marketing practices.

    The order was sent to Juul Labs Inc, RJ Reynolds Vapor Company, Fontem US Inc, Logic Technology Development LLC, Nu Mark LLC and NJOY LLC, the FTC said in a statement.

    The FTC is seeking annual sales data and information on free giveaways, as well as data on product placement and promoted flavours. The government also seeks information on the companies' use of celebrities as internet influencers and marketing on college campuses to sell electronic smoking devices.

    The first order was actually sent about a month ago, an FTC official said.

    Altria Group Inc, which owns Nu Mark and has a 35 percent stake in Juul, will comply with the FTC request for information on Nu Mark, a company spokesman said.

    A Juul spokesman said that the company will also fully cooperate with the FTC.

    A Fontem Ventures spokeswoman said the company has been working with the FTC and will meet the request's deadline. Reynolds American Inc said it is reviewing the request, while Japan Tobacco - which owns Logic - said it is looking forward to continuing its dialogue with the FTC.

    The FTC order comes a week after a panel in the US Congress's House of Representatives asked Fontem Ventures, Reynolds American, NJOY, and Japan Tobacco to stop all advertising of their products in the US. Juul had said the same day that it would pull its ads.

    The requests come amid a mysterious outbreak of serious vaping-related lung illnesses - the cause of which has yet to be determined.

    The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that there have been 1,080 confirmed and probable cases of vaping-related lung illness in 46 states. Across the country, 18 deaths have been associated with vaping in the mounting public health crisis.

    "The increasing number of lung injury cases we see associated with e-cigarette use, or vaping, is deeply concerning," Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, this may be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the escalating health threat this outbreak poses to the American public, particularly youth and young adults."

    Meanwhile, the agency has urged people to stop using e-cigarettes or vaping products, including those containing tetrahydrocannabidinol (THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana).

    The administration of US President Donald Trump has announced plans to remove all flavoured e-cigarette products from the market in the US amid concerns that flavours like mint and mango attract children to the products.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency