The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced sweeping new restrictions on flavored tobacco products, including the electronic cigarettes that are popular among teenagers, in an effort to prevent a new generation of nicotine addicts.
The much-anticipated announcement on Nov. 15 will mean that only tobacco, mint and menthol e-cigarette flavors can be sold at most traditional retail outlets such as convenience stores. Other fruity- or sweet-flavored varieties will now only be sold at age-restricted stores or through online merchants that use age-verification checks.
The FDA also plans to seek a ban on menthol cigarettes, a longtime goal of public health advocates, as well as flavored cigars.
The moves are meant to prevent young people from continuing to use e-cigarettes, potentially leading to traditional cigarette smoking, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said.
“I will not allow a generation of children to become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes,” Gottlieb said.
The agency has faced mounting pressure to act on e-cigarettes, amid their surging popularity among U.S. teenagers in recent years. One of the most popular devices, made by San Francisco-based Juul Labs Inc, has become a phenomenon at U.S. high schools, where “Juuling” has become synonymous with vaping.
E-cigarettes vaporize a liquid containing nicotine, the addictive stimulant that gives smokers a rush. They are widely believed to be less harmful than combustible cigarettes, but the long-term health consequences of using the devices are unknown.
Data released Nov. 15 by the FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a 78 percent increase in high school students who reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, compared with the prior year.
More than 3 million U.S. high school students, or more than 20 percent, used the products, along with some 570,000 middle school students, according to the survey.
Support to Restrict Youth Access
Juul and tobacco giant Altria Group Inc. had announced measures to pull flavored e-cigarette products from retail outlets, after the FDA threatened in September to ban Juul and other leading e-cigarette products, unless their makers took steps to prevent use by minors.
Juul, Logic, a unit of Japan Tobacco Inc.; Altria, which makes e-cigarettes under the MarkTen brand; British American Tobacco Plc (BAT); and Imperial Brands Plc, the maker of blu e-cigarettes, all say they supported efforts to reduce youth access.
Altria said it believes the devices have the potential to be “less harmful products that can deliver nicotine to adults who want them.”
Imperial said it’s developing a technology that can lock the devices if an underage person tries to use it.
BAT said that while “flavors play an important role in an adult smoker’s transition out of smoking, we understand the FDA’s concern that some flavors can play a role in increasing youth appeal.”
E-cigarettes have been a divisive topic in the public-health community. Some focus on the potential benefit of shifting lifelong smokers to less harmful nicotine products, while others fear it will create a new generation addicted to nicotine.
Last year, the FDA under Gottlieb extended until 2022 a deadline for many e-cigarette products to comply with new federal rules on marketing and public health. The new restrictions on flavors are interim measures that companies must follow before submitting detailed plans before the deadline.
The new rules on e-cigarette flavors mean that many of the sweet and fruity varieties believed to be most popular among minors will only be available in stores such as vape shops or tobacco shops that don’t allow underage people inside.
Stores could also have a separate, age-restricted section that allows the sale of other flavors, the FDA said.
By Chris Kirkham