Gottlieb Concedes Teens Primarily Get E-Cigarettes from Peers, Not C-Stores

Former FDA commissioner had targeted convenience retailers while in office.

May 30, 2019

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), discussed e-cigarettes with Axios Media business editor Dan Primack in a May 23 Axios podcast titled “The War on Vaping.” In the wide-ranging interview, Gottlieb acknowledged that minors aren’t getting e-cigarettes at c-stores, but rather from enterprising 18 year-olds.

Gottlieb served as FDA commissioner from May 11, 2017 until his April 5, 2019 resignation. He has since rejoined New Enterprise Associates, a venture capital firm.

In the podcast, Primack asked Gottlieb if he would support a bill introduced last week by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) to raise the federal minimum tobacco buying age from 18 to 21 as a way to address the problem of teen vaping.

“I absolutely do,” Gottlieb responded. “I think it would really help with respect to the public health burden overall, just with respect to tobacco sales to minors and to youth, but particularly with e-cigarettes because a lot of the sales of e-cigarettes that we see in high schools aren’t necessarily 16 year-olds walking into convenience stores and buying these products, but it’s enterprising 18 year-olds who can legally buy these products—high school seniors buying a whole bunch and then selling them inside schools.”

Gottlieb continued, “So, I think if you raise the age to 21, it makes that kind of secondary market more difficult. Now those sales to 18 year-olds will be illegal. So, in terms of one way to address the youth epidemic of vaping, I think this is a useful step.”

Just before Gottlieb left the agency, the FDA in March issued draft guidance that would effectively ban gas stations and convenience stores from selling most flavored e-cigarettes. If finalized, the restrictions would effectively prevent brick-and-mortar retailers to sell flavored e-cigs other than tobacco, menthol or mint unless minors are restricted from entering the store or if those items are sold in a separate location inside the store that minors may not enter.

NACS in April submitted comments on behalf of the convenience retailing industry objecting to the draft guidance, saying the FDA is unfairly targeting convenience stores while allowing flavored e-cigarette products to still be sold in vape stores and online. Convenience retailers already take measures to verify the age of their customers and ensure that they comply with federal, state and local tobacco laws. The FDA received more than 15,000 comments on its proposal.

NACS believes convenience store retailers should be allowed to continue selling flavored e-cigarettes as long as they are legal products on the market. The FDA’s current focus on restricting convenience stores while handing a government monopoly on the sale of some products to other retail stores or online stores has no support in the evidence or the law.