And it highlighted e-cigarettes' role as a way for adult smokers to transition off cigarettes.
The government is now threatening to pull electronic cigarettes, such as Juul, a sleek little device that looks like a thumb drive and is popular with teens, off the market if the tobacco industry doesn't do more to combat growing use of such products among youth. Analysts at Wells Fargo estimated that Americans bought more than $2.3 billion worth of e-cigarettes between August 2017 and last month, and they expect annual sales to reach almost $4 billion this year.
And some of the retailers that received warning letters are still advertising and selling these products, he said.
The agency also has issued more than 135 No-Tobacco-Sale Order Complaints, which can result in retailers being prohibited from selling tobacco products for specified periods of time.
Gottlieb echoed those concerns, saying he's anxious about the effects of nicotine in e-cigarettes on the developing brain, and that a proportion of teenagers who use the devices will end up on regular cigarettes. The premise of such threats is that the interests of adults who might want to switch from smoking to a far less hazardous form of nicotine consumption should be sacrificed for the sake of curtailing e-cigarette use by minors, which is already illegal.
Altria Group and British American Tobacco have gained the most intraday since 2008, rising as much as 7.7 percent and 6.9 percent, respectively. "We can not allow a whole new generation to become addicted to nicotine".
The companies say they are working with the FDA to prevent young people from using their devices. The FDA's four-year delay on that requirement has allowed the industry to flourish with little oversight.
Last summer, Gottlieb unveiled a comprehensive tobacco policy aimed at reducing cigarette addiction, which recognized e-cigarettes as a potential smoking cessation tool to help adults give up combustible cigarettes.
On Tuesday, Gottlieb said the FDA could just as easily change its approach.
In its bid to wean adult smokers from traditional cigarettes, the agency has sought to make a wider range of "reduced risk" tobacco products available to consumers.
Dr. Gottlieb said his agency's aggressive posture may create obstacles for adults who use e-cigarettes as substitutes for traditional smokes, but he added that he is willing to pay that price to stop children from getting hooked on tobacco.
The agency said it plans to unveil a new e-cigarette public education campaign targeted to youth next week, and will soon announce wider access to new nicotine replacement therapies to help more adult smokers quit cigarettes.
On Wednesday, FDA also sent letters to the five leading e-cigarette manufacturers - JUUL, Vuse, MarkTen, blu, and Logic - requesting plans within 60 days to address sales to minors.
"We must do more to stem what I see as an epidemic of use of e-cigs among teens, and deeply disturbing trends that show no sign of abating", he said.
The appeal of e-cigarettes is that users are said to inhale far fewer toxins than cigarette smokers.
Wednesday, the federal agency announced what it called its largest coordinated enforcement effort in its history.
The announcement is the latest in a series of steps the FDA has been taking to try to curb vaping among young people.
These levels of nicotine are highly addictive, particularly to the developing brains of children and teenagers. "They must demonstrate that they're truly committed to keeping these new products out of the hands of kids, and they must find a way to reverse this trend", Gottlieb said.