The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is enforcing a previously issued ban on sales of sweet-flavored e-cigarette cartridges -- a move to fight the youth vaping epidemic that may have broader consequences.
But it turns out that adults like dessert-flavored e-cigarettes, too, researchers at Penn State College of Medicine found.
"Our data show that flavors aren't just popular with the youth, but with adults as well," said lead author Dr. Ping Du, associate professor of medicine and public health sciences. "Many of the participants in our study indicated that they used e-cigarettes as a means to quit smoking or avoid relapse, and these flavors may be part of the reason why they end up using e-cigarettes in the long term," she said.
For the study, the researchers compared results of online surveys conducted among e-cigarette users between 2012 and 2014 and between 2017 and 2019. Both surveys asked respondents to name their preferred liquid flavor. The findings are based on responses from 383 respondents between 22 and 75 years of age.
Their preferences for traditional tobacco, menthol and mint flavors decreased, while preferences for chocolate, candy and other sweet flavors grew. About 50 percent of respondents indicated they'd find a way to buy e-cig flavors even if they were banned from the U.S. market.
Study co-author Jonathan Foulds, professor of public health sciences, noted that most of the respondents used cartridge-based electronic cigarettes. Despite the federal ban on flavored cartridges, he noted these users can continue to purchase flavored e-liquids in bottles and possibly get flavors through disposable vapes. Social media and websites make it easy for users to get unregulated products.
"Unauthorized flavor additions or buying products off the streets is dangerous for personal health since we don't know what the chemicals are in those products," Du said in a Penn State news release.
"We don't know what the long-term effects of this new policy will be, but the evidence we've collected says that adult, long-term e-cigarette users with a preference for sweeter flavors may face health risks trying to obtain or make their preferred flavors," she said.
Despite enforcement limitations, Du and Foulds said the restrictions might prevent nonusers from picking up the vaping habit.
The study was recently published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more on e-cigarettes.
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