The chairmen of five key Senate committees on Thursday warned CEOs of major convenience stores and wholesalers to stop sales of vaping products with illicit flavors that they called “widespread violations of federal law.”

Senators expressed their concerns in letters to the companies, amplifying frustration among some lawmakers in Congress over the continued availability of e-cigarettes in bright colors and sweet flavors that attract young people who could become addicted to nicotine. Rampant sales, they wrote, “represent a tremendous threat to public health.”

“The FDA and the industry must do more to address the youth vaping epidemic and immediately remove unauthorized vaping products from their shelves,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic leader.

The letters were addressed to retailers such as 7-Eleven, Circle K, bp America, Pilot, Kwik Trip and others. The Food and Drug Administration had previously issued warnings about the sale of unauthorized brands such as Elf Bar, EB Design and Funky Republic.

The senators’ letters reminded companies that Congress gave the FDA authority over tobacco products in a landmark 2009 law. The sale of unapproved items can result in fines or an order to stop selling any tobacco products. , says the letter.

“Today, millions of children use unauthorized e-cigarettes, risking nicotine addiction, respiratory illnesses, exacerbation of depression and anxiety, and many other harms,” reads the letter to Joseph DePinto, director 7-Eleven executive. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

To date, the FDA has approved 23 vaping products and rejected millions of applications. It has allowed sales of some vaporizers still under review, including some from Juul and Vuse.

Some gas station retailers, represented by Energy Marketers of America, have found the situation so murky that formally requested to the FDA to clarify which e-cigarettes they can sell.

“We have asked the FDA on numerous occasions for complete information about what can and cannot be sold in stores and they have refused to provide it to us,” Jeff Lenard, a spokesman for the National Association of Retail Stores, said in an email. Convenience. “It’s time for the FDA to provide that clarity and aggressively enforce the law.”

Brian King, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, said the 23 authorized e-cigarette devices are the only ones that can be “legally sold in the U.S.” He added that the sale of other products puts sellers at risk of seizure, injunctions or sanctions.

“The FDA will continue our comprehensive actions across the supply chain to protect our nation’s youth from the harms of tobacco products,” said Dr. King. The agency has issued more than 440 warning letters and 100 fines to retailers accused of selling unauthorized tobacco items.

Public health experts have made repeated calls for the FDA to complete its review of e-cigarette sales applications and clear the market for illicit vaporizers. The agency has said it will complete the review by June 30. So far, it has authorized only tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes and has recently rejected several menthol varieties.

A published study last summer suggested that limiting flavored vaporizers could have an effect: About 40 percent of teens said they would quit e-cigarettes if only tobacco and menthol were available, and 70 percent would quit if only tobacco-flavored vaporizers were marketed. .

“What that says is that in this context, young people are saying, ‘If tobacco were the only flavor, I don’t know if I would still use this product,'” said Alayna Tackett, an assistant professor at the Center on Tobacco. Research at Ohio State University. She noted that predicted behavior may not reflect what young people actually do.

Levels of vaping among teens have dropped sharply since a surge in popularity in 2019, when about 28 percent of high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the past month. That level fell to about 10 percent in a similar survey last year.

Supporters of adult-use e-cigarettes cite those statistics as evidence that the teen crisis has eased, and say the FDA should keep flavors available for those trying to quit traditional cigarettes.

Concern about the use of electronic cigarettes is increasing around the world. In January, Britain announced it would ban flavored disposable e-cigarettes after a survey showed one in five 11- to 17-year-olds reported having vaped in the previous year.

In December, the World Health Organization called for “urgent action” to protect children of electronic cigarettes and said that many countries had no age limit for these products. E-cigarettes are highly addictive, she said, and “generate toxic substances, some of which are known to cause cancer and others that increase the risk of heart and lung disorders.”

Recent studies show the value of e-cigarettes for smokers looking to quit, along with the risks for those who continue to smoke and vape. A published study in January found that nearly 16 percent of smokers who switched to e-cigarettes remained smoke-free six months later. That rate was similar to that of those who took the smoking cessation drug Chantix, and better than that of those who used nicotine gum.

Other study published last month found that so-called dual users of cigarettes and vapes faced higher risks of cardiovascular disease, stroke and asthma.

“E-cigarettes are, for some diseases, as bad as a cigarette,” said Stanton Glantz, lead author of the study. “For others, they are a little better. But they are not much better and dual use is always worse.”

In addition to Durbin, the other senators who signed the letter were Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon; Bernie Sanders, independent from Vermont; Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio; and Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut.