U.S. government considers ban on flavored e-cigarettes over youth 'epidemic'

Alicia Farmer
September 13, 2018

Nearly 12% of high school students and 3% of middle school students reported using e-cigarettes in the prior 30 days. "It's an unfortunate tradeoff". The agency extended that reach to other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, in August 2016 and allowed those products that were already on the market to continue sales while preparing an application for FDA clearance.

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.

The agency sent letters to Juul, along with other popular e-cigarette brands-as well as to over 1,100 retailers-demanding that they prove that e-cigaretts will stop being sold to the young folks. But it's not clear how quickly the decision could be reversed. Additionally, 12 online retailers were found to be selling vaping products that were "misleadingly labeled and/or advertised e-liquids resembling kid-friendly food products", in violation of an earlier order from the FDA, and were also slapped with warning letters, according to the announcement.

"We see clear signs that youth use of electronic cigarettes has reached an epidemic proportion, and we must adjust certain aspects of our comprehensive strategy to stem this clear and present danger", FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a press release. "Our mission is to improve the lives of adult smokers by providing them with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes".

On the other side of the public health ledger, there is little reason to think that restricting information about ENDS, making them less cool, or banning e-liquid flavors would reduce morbidity and mortality among today's adolescents, either now or in the future.

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The warning from the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday cited recent data pointing to a sharp rise in underage use of the devices, including Juul, Vuse and others. The number of regular users is much smaller, and nearly all of them are current or former smokers.

The FDA is in the process of rolling out a sweeping anti-smoking initiative created to make it easier for smokers to quit by cutting the nicotine levels in regular cigarettes. 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.

The ability of manufacturers to prevent underage consumption is, in any case, pretty limited. "It's aimed at retail and online sales of e-cigarettes to minors".

The FDA moves come as it seeks to balance its approach on e-cigarettes, which can be used to wean lifelong smokers onto less harmful nicotine products, but also risk drawing a new generation to nicotine addiction. The agency will then determine whether the plans go far enough. If underage consumption does not justify a ban on tobacco cigarettes (and I don't think it does), it can not possibly justify a ban on competing products that are much safer. "In the coming weeks, we'll take additional action under our Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan to immediately address the youth access to, and the appeal of, these products".

Despite the fact that they can not legally be sold to anyone under 18, e-cigarettes - hand-held vaporizers that create aerosols from liquids typically packed with nicotine and other chemicals, often including flavorings - are now the most popular tobacco product among high school students, recent federal data shows.

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