By Chris Kirkham
(Reuters) - Juul Labs Inc, the U.S. market leader for electronic cigarettes, said Tuesday it will pull popular flavours such as mango, cucumber and fruit from retail store shelves in an effort to reduce surging teenage use of its products.
The move comes as Juul and other e-cigarette makers have faced heightened scrutiny from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration amid a sharp increase in high school use of the devices, which look like a USB flash drive and vaporize a flavoured liquid containing nicotine.
In a statement on Tuesday, Juul Chief Executive Kevin Burns said the company wants to be "the off-ramp for adult smokers to switch from cigarettes, not an on-ramp for America’s youth to initiate on nicotine."
Juul said it will stop selling flavours except for tobacco, mint and menthol in all retail outlets, including convenience stores and vape shops, until retailers can install technology that scans buyers' IDs to independently verify they are aged 21 or older.
Until then, popular fruit and other sweet flavours will only be available for purchase on Juul's website. The company said it uses an age-verification system that requires buyers to enter their social security number, address and birth date, which is verified by a third-party service.
In addition, the company said it is shutting down its social media channels on Instagram and Facebook <FB.O>, and working with social media companies to remove "unauthorized, youth-oriented content on their platforms" relating to Juul.
The FDA in September threatened to ban Juul and four other leading e-cigarette products unless their makers took steps to prevent use by minors. The FDA gave Juul and four big tobacco companies 60 days to submit plans to curb underage use, a compliance period that has now ended.
Juul has grabbed significant market share in the U.S. e-cigarette market over the last year, growing from 13.6 percent of the market in early 2017 to nearly 75 percent now, according to a Wells Fargo analysis of Nielsen retail data.
(Reporting by Chris Kirkham; Editing by Bill Berkrot)