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Juul e-cigarette starter pack is seen in this picture illustration taken July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Martinne Geller/Illustration

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel on Tuesday outlawed the import and sale of e-cigarettes made by Silicon Valley startup Juul Labs, citing public health concerns given their nicotine content.

A statement by Israel's Health Ministry said the Juul device was banned because it contains nicotine at a concentration higher than 20 milligrams per millilitre and poses "a grave risk to public health."

Since launching in 2015, the flash drive-sized vaping device has transformed the market in the United States, where it now accounts for nearly 70 percent of tracked e-cigarette sales. The company is valued at $15 billion based on its most recent funding round, according to venture capital database Pitchbook Inc.

In a statement Tuesday, Juul Labs Inc said it was “incredibly disappointed” with what it called a “misguided” decision by the Israeli government. The San Francisco company said it planned to appeal the ban, adding that its devices provide smokers “a true alternative to combustible cigarettes.”

The Israeli move was consistent with similar restrictions in Europe, the ministry's statement said.

The ban, which goes into effect in 15 days, was signed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also holds the health portfolio.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported in May that Juul e-cigarettes were already available for purchase at 30 locations around the country.

Juul says it targets adult smokers, but it has faced scrutiny over the popularity of its products with teenagers.

In April the U.S. Food and Drug Administration launched a crackdown on the sale of e-cigarettes and tobacco products to minors, particularly those developed by Juul Labs.

(Writing by Dan Williams; editing by David Gregorio and Tom Brown)

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Reuters