By Kim Polacek
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is cracking down on the sale of vaping products to teenagers.
“E-cigarettes have become an almost ubiquitous and dangerous trend among teens. The disturbing and accelerating trajectory of use we’re seeing in youth, and the resulting path to addiction must end. It’s simply not tolerable,” said FDA Chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb.
The FDA sent 1,300 warning letters and fines to retailers who illegally sold e-cigarette products to minors during a larger-scale undercover blitz of stores and online retailers over the summer. Additionally, the federal agency issued letters to manufacturers of the five top-selling brands asking each to submit plans to the FDA within the next 60 days outlining how they will address the widespread youth access and use of their products.
E-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product by youth. The FDA estimates more than 2 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in 2017.
But teen vaping is only part of the e-cigarette picture, says Dr. Thomas Brandon, chair of Moffitt’s Department of Health Outcomes and Behavior and a longtime tobacco researcher. “We need to remember that current scientific consensus is that vaping is far safer than smoking. The FDA needs to find the right balance between discouraging e-cigarettes by adolescents while still encouraging adult cigarette smokers to switch completely over to e-cigarettes.”
The FDA is calling the teen e-cigarette use an epidemic and is committed to tackling issues. One consideration would be a ban of flavored e-cigarette products. However, Dr. Brandon warns that eliminating flavors could also have the unintended consequence of reducing the number of adult cigarette smokers who consider switching to e-cigarettes. “Nearly one-third of all cancer deaths are due to smoking,” reminds Dr. Brandon, “so a major part of preventing cancer involves helping smokers to quit. The FDA should tread carefully before enacting any policy that might inadvertently make e-cigarettes a less attractive alternative for smokers who have been unable to quit through other means.”
The federal agency is working on a framework to better regulate e-cigarettes. This would include manufacturers submitting products for approval before they hit store shelves. This initiative was supposed to kick off this year, but the FDA pushed it back to 2020 saying both the agency and industry need time to prepare.