Two months after the federal regulators declared youth vaping an epidemic and demanded action from companies, e-cigarette maker Juul announced its decision Tuesday to pull its flavored products from stores and remove its social media presence.
Juul Labs, one of the largest e-cigarette manufacturers, will halt sales of its mango, fruit, creme and cucumber flavored pods at more than 90,000 retail stores, and require additional age verification measures for online sales of the flavors, the company said.
The company said it will also delete its Facebook and Instagram accounts and halt promotional posts on Twitter.
"Our intent was never to have youth use Juul products. But intent is not enough, the numbers are what matter, and the numbers tell us underage use of e-cigarette products is a problem. We must solve it," Juul CEO Kevin Burns said in a statement.
► Nov. 13: Cities step up pressure on e-cigarette industry over teen vaping epidemic
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► Nov. 8: CDC: Cigarette smoking hits new low among adults, but vaping a concern
The plan comes after the Food and Drug Administration in September gave Juul and other e-cigarette companies 60 days to submit "robust" plans to prevent youth vaping.
"Teenagers are becoming regular users, and the proportion of regular users is increasing," Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in September. "We’re going to have to take action."
In a tweet Tuesday, Gottlieb recognized Juul's action but hinted at further FDA action.
"We’re deeply concerned about the epidemic of youth use of e-cigs. Voluntary action is no substitute for regulatory steps #FDA will soon take," Gottlieb said.
An agency official told USA TODAY last week that the FDA plans to ban convenience store and gas station sales of e-cigarette flavors other than tobacco, mint and menthol. Stricter age-verification requirements are also planned for online sales of e-cigarettes.
Under Juul's plan, the sale of tabacco, mint and menthol flavored products would continue in retail stores. Juul said those products "mirror what is currently available for combustible cigarettes," and it plans to increase a "secret shopper program" to ensure compliance with those retailers.
The company also indicated it would bring its mango, fruit, creme and cucumber flavors back to stores in the future if retailers increase age-verification practices and limit product sales to prevent bulk purchases. The plan did not provide a timeline for those actions.
More than 2 million middle school, high school and college students use the battery-powered devices to heat liquid-based nicotine into an inhalable vapor.
In a statement, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids called Juul's plan "too little, too late."
"Now that it has become so popular with kids and captured 75 percent of the e-cigarette market, Juul no longer needs to do social media marketing because its many young customers are doing it for them through their own posts on Instagram, YouTube and other social media."
Juul said it will continue working with social media platforms to combat third-party accounts appealing to youth vaping. It said it would use YouTube only to post testimonials from former smokers that switched to Juul.
Juul along with Vuse, MarkTen XL, Blu and Logic – other companies from which the FDA is seeking action plans – make up more than 97 percent of the U.S. market for e-cigarettes, FDA said.
Cities and private litigators have been stepping up their fight against e-cigarette companies, too.
The city of Chicago was planning to file a lawsuit Tuesday against eight online e-cigarette retailers that it says it caught selling products to minors.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer asked a Los Angeles County Superior Court last month for injunctions against three electronic cigarette companies he said sell vaping products without verifying a buyer’s age and market to young people on the social media.
The industry, though, says e-cigarettes are for helping adults quit smoking.
Maggie Gowen, executive director of the Global Vaping Standards Association, told USA TODAY members of the industry group "fully support online age verification."
"It is imperative that we keep these products out of the hands of our youth," she said.
In August, Gottlieb told USA TODAY that the FDA was weighing the benefits of e-cigarettes in helping adults quit smoking against the risk to young people who become addicted to tobacco through vaping.
Many adults prefer flavored e-liquid when they are trying to quit, but Gottlieb said then that he was prepared to make vaping less attractive to adults if it reduces the harm to teens.
Contributing: Jayne O'Donnell and Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY. Follow Ryan Miller on Twitter: @RyanW_Miller