The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is giving vaping companies 60 days to figure out how to reverse what it's calling an epidemic of youth usage, or risk having some of their products potentially pulled from the market.
"We see clear signs that youth use of electronic cigarettes has reached an epidemic proportion", Gottlieb said. Of the 3.6 million middle and high school students who said in 2017 they were tobacco product users, 2.1 million used e-cigarettes, Bloomberg reports, citing CDC stats.
The organisation warned the country's five largest e-cigarette makers that their products - Juul, Blu, MarkTen, Vuse and Logic - could be banned unless the companies could prove within 60 days that they had effective plans to stop sales to children.
The FDA banned e-cigarette sales to minors in 2016, meaning they can not be sold to people under 18.
The FDA also targeted Juul retailers this spring, issuing 56 warning letters and six civil monetary penalties.
Shares of British American Tobacco were up almost 6 percent and shares of cigarette-maker Imperial Brands PLC were up more than 3 percent. More generally, the FDA wants Juul and the other companies to contemplate "the particular youth appeal of their products", which involves features, such as style and convenience, that adults also happen to like. "Juul is a product for adult smokers". But when it comes to minors, he said, even e-cigarettes should be off limits.
"If they fail to do so, or if the plans do not appropriately address this issue, the FDA will consider whether it would be appropriate to revisit the current policy that results in these products remaining on the market without a marketing order from the agency", the FDA said in a press release.
"We can not allow a whole new generation to become addicted to nicotine", he said.
While applauding the FDA for today's actions, some said the agency should increase its efforts to protect the nation's youth from the dangers of vaping. But it added that "appropriate flavors play an important role in helping adult smokers switch", spokeswoman Victoria Davis said. Despite the constant warnings that increased experimentation with e-cigarettes would lead to more smoking, consumption of conventional cigarettes by teenagers stubbornly continues to decline, reaching a record low previous year in the Monitoring the Future Study, which began in 1975.
Gottlieb recently began to ask whether the use of Juul and other similar products by kids is overshadowing any benefit to adult smokers using the devices to help them quit cigarettes.
It recognized the impact this might have on the use of these products by adults trying to stop smoking, but said that emerging research shows that action must be taken.
Imperial Brands unit Fontem Ventures said it would work to further strengthen youth access prevention policies and procedures.
A representative from Vuse, whose parent company is British American Tobacco, said: "We share Commissioner Gottlieb's concerns and applaud his approach to eliminating youth usage of all tobacco products".
Logic Technology Development, owned by Japan Tobacco Inc, said it will demonstrate to the FDA "that Logic markets its products only to adults".
In April, the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Education sent a joint letter and toolkit to school districts across the state, warning them of the dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping products and providing them with resources for addressing the issue in schools.