On September 12, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to the manufacturers of electronic cigarettes. The manufacturers were warned to find ways to address the increasing use of e-cigarettes by teens, or the FDA would make them pull all flavored vaping products from the market.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb called e-cigarettes an “opportunity for adult smokers to transition off combustible tobacco products and onto nicotine delivery products that may not have the same level of risks associated with them.” He stated that he believes e-cigarettes can be an important tool in getting adults to quit smoking – something that experts are actually still divided on – but that the nicotine in them still has harmful effects, particularly on a developing brain. Gottlieb admitted that he had failed to predict the popularity of electronic cigarettes among teens, particularly the flavored variety, and while he wants to continue exploring the use of e-cigarettes as a less harmful alternative for adults, it can’t come at the expense of kids. Right now, he says, the use of electronic cigarettes among teens has reached epidemic proportions.
Earlier in the year, The FDA launched a Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan, meant to focus on preventing youth access to tobacco products, curbing marketing of tobacco products aimed at young people, and educating teens about the dangers of using tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. It also plans to educate retailers about their role in protecting teens from tobacco. According to Gottlieb, enforcement is the most effective tool in preventing teen tobacco use, which is why the FDA has issued dozens of warnings and penalties to manufacturers, distributors, and retailers over the past year. This most recent effort involved sending 1,100 warning letters to stores for the illegal sale of e-cigarettes to minors, as well as issuing 131 civil monetary penalties to stores that continued to violate the restrictions on sales to minors.
One factor that the FDA is looking at closely is the flavoring of electronic cigarettes, which are a large part of the appeal for young people. Many of these flavors are sweet, meant to mimic fruit, candy, and other desserts. According to a 2016 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA, almost a third of the middle and high school students who used e-cigarettes said the variety of flavors is a main reason they used the products.
According to Gottlieb, the FDA is currently evaluating how it would implement a policy to cut back the marketing and selling of flavored products. It is also seriously considering removing flavored e-cigarettes from the market altogether if the data shows teen use continuing to rise.
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