FDA, e-cigarette firms grapple with how to restrict kids' vaping

Beverly Banks, Medill News Service
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has expressed concern about the rising number of children who are vaping. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has expressed concern about the rising number of children who are vaping. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- The Food and Drug Administration has prioritized combating e-cigarette use among minors, but vaping critics and advocates are split on how to address it.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb hosted a public forum to address the increase of e-cigarette use among high-schoolers and middle-schoolers.


"I still believe e-cigarettes present an opportunity for adult smokers to transition off cigarettes and onto nicotine delivery products that may not have the same level of risks," Gottlieb tweeted on the day of last week's forum. "However, if the youth use continues to rise, the entire category will face an existential threat."

In recent years, the number of teens smoking combustible cigarettes has declined, but e-cigarette use has spiked. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Report in November, e-cigarette use among high school students increased from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 20.8 percent in 2018. In the last year, e-cigarette use rose by 78 percent.

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Dennis Henigan, a legal and regulatory expert at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, praised the FDA for hosting a forum but urged the agency to do more to prevent the sales of e-cigarettes to minors.

"We need to have the FDA step up and stimulate that kind of research, but at the same time the FDA needs to move decisively to prevent kids from becoming addicted to these tobacco products," Henigan said.

Some vaping proponents agree that the FDA needs to do more to stop the sale to minors but disagree with the FDA's targeting of vaping industries.

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Greg Conley is the president of the American Vaping Association, a non-profit that advocates for the use of vaping products to help adults quit smoking. Conley said the FDA's targeting of flavored e-cigarettes is not the problem. He quit smoking eight years ago after using a melon flavored e-cigarette.

"The industry shouldn't be blamed when youth are obtaining their vaping products illegally," Conley said.

JUUL is one of most profitable e-cigarette companies, with revenue of $2 billion in 2018. The company's original mission was to help adults stop smoking combustible cigarettes.

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JUUL spokesman Ted Kwong said the company is implementing an action plan to limit youths from using e-cigarettes.

"Underage use of JUUL and any other vaping products is completely unacceptable to us and is directly opposed to our mission of eliminating cigarettes by offering existing adult smokers a true alternative to combustible cigarettes, " Kwong said.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids blames JUUL for the rise in youth e-cigarette use. Altria, one of the largest U.S. tobacco companies, bought a 35 percent stake in JUUL last month. This purchase potentially opens the door for larger e-cigarette marketing strategies to teens.

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"The whole Altria-JUUL transaction from a public health standpoint is an abomination and it clearly emphasizes that JUUL is not going to market this product to reduce the market for cigarettes," Henigan said.

Under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act signed in 2009, the FDA has the authority to regulate tobacco industries and pull e-cigarettes from the market.

Conley said a future FDA ban would not be in the best interest of adult smokers or small businesses.

"Approximately 10,000 small businesses would close if FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb was to ban flavored vapor product, and that would be devastating for public and for cessation rates among America adult smokers," Conley said.

E-Cigarette Story from Medill Washington on Vimeo.

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