Earlier this month, we got a hint of what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) might be planning for steps to reduce youth e-cigarette use as part of the administration’s framework and pledge to fight tobacco and nicotine addiction. Details of the leaked plan included banning flavored e-cigarettes from retail stores and increasing age-verification measures on online sites.
When the full plan was announced, however, it had a few changes. The stronger proposal to eliminate flavored e-cigarettes from retail locations is gone, and instead, the FDA is asking for all flavored electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), with the exception of tobacco, mint and menthol flavors, to only be sold in age-restricted, in-personal retail locations. While this proposal offers improvements, it also leaves opportunity for state and local officials in Idaho to take action to help keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of teens.
The FDA’s proposal to not eliminate flavored e-cigarettes from retail locations and simply limit them to age-restricted areas leaves more to be desired. Is this a step in the right direction? Yes. Is it enough? No. Many teens are accessing e-cigarettes from peers who are 18. With Idaho’s tobacco sale age still at 18, this step does little to reduce access to e-cigarettes and help curb teen vaping in our state. While well intended, the current proposal could create unintended challenges for retailers who want to do the right thing and follow the rules.
In a move to position itself as a leader in the market ahead of the FDA’s official announcement, JUUL Labs announced it would no longer have many of its flavored e-cigarette products, including mango, fruit, creme and cucumber, available for sale in most retail stores (at least temporarily).
While we may question the motives of a company like JUUL – which dominates the U.S. e-cigarette market at 75 percent and is valued at $16 billion – we can get behind the updated policy in a move to reduce teen vaping. Furthermore, JUUL is removing its social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram and the company has come out in support of Tobacco 21 legislation.
“JUUL Labs hopes the components of our plan are implemented industry-wide. If implemented across the category, these actions will have the greatest impact in restricting access and ultimately decreasing underage use, along with 21+ laws on all tobacco products,” said JUUL Labs CEO Kevin Burns. “On that point, JUUL Labs will not only continue to support Tobacco 21, we will actively pursue it by drafting legislation, funding advocacy campaigns, and engaging with lawmakers.”
JUUL isn’t the only company showing support for Tobacco 21 legislation. Howard A. Willard III, chairman and chief executive officer at Altria – the maker of Marlboro cigarettes and MarkTen e-cigarettes – wrote in a statement to the FDA in October, “We will support federal legislation to establish 21 as the minimum age to purchase any tobacco product.”
In the FDA’s official release, Gottlieb reaffirmed, “any policy accommodation to advance the innovations that could present an alternative to smoking – particularly as it relates to e-cigarettes – cannot, and will not, come at the expense of addicting a generation of children to nicotine through these same delivery vehicles.”
Here’s what the FDA’s proposal is looking at:
Reducing the availability of youth-enticing flavors is a key step in reducing youth use. Flavored e-cigarette liquids are a major draw for teen users. According to the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, more than 85 percent of e-cigarette users ages 12-17 use flavored e-cigarettes. The 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) found an increase in flavored e-cigarette use among high school students who currently used e-cigarettes, from 61 percent in 2017 to 68 percent in 2018.
“Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease. While the long-term effects of e-cigarettes are still unknown, we know enough to know they are not safe, especially for teens,” said Corey Surber, director of state advocacy for Saint Alphonsus and member of the Tobacco 21 Idaho Coalition. “Our youth should not be the testing ground for the newest products containing nicotine. Nicotine addiction is a major concern and threat in our schools and communities, not to mention other concerns related to ingredients and carcinogens in e-cigarette liquids.”
Disturbingly, the 2018 NYTS also reported a 78 percent increase in current e-cigarette use among high school students and a 48 percent increase among middle school students. There are now 3.6 million middle and high school students in the U.S. currently using e-cigarettes.
Multiple research studies have found that teens who use e-cigarettes are more likely to become regular smokers of combustible cigarettes, as much as seven times more likely according to a study published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Nearly 90 percent of smokers start before the age of 18 and 95 percent before the age of 21. Nicotine addiction is a significant concern and risk amongst our youth, especially with the growing trend of e-cigarettes and vaping. If we want the next generation to have a healthier future, we need to take steps to protect them from this addiction.
Tobacco 21 Idaho is working to reduce and prevent access of tobacco and e-cigarette products to high school students and other young people who risk becoming addicted to nicotine. To stay informed of news and updates happening with Tobacco 21 Idaho and to learn how you can take action in the near future, join our newsletter and like our Facebook page.