The Food and Drug Administration once again has upped the ante in its war on youth smoking and vaping.
“Today, I’m pursuing actions aimed at addressing the disturbing trend of youth nicotine use and continuing to advance the historic declines we’ve achieved in recent years in the rates of combustible cigarette use among kids,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said in a.
First and foremost, the FDA wants to reduce the lure of e-cigarettes by limiting the variety of flavored products for sale in retail outlets. Under the proposal unveiled Nov. 15, only electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) that are unflavored or have tobacco, mint, or menthol flavors would be widely available. Flavored products – think cherry, cotton candy, and mango – would be sold in age-restricted environments, such as stand-alone tobacco retailers like vape shops. The FDA also seeks more stringent enforcement of age verification on ENDS products sold online.
The proposal also would reexamine regulations governing flavored cigars, with the possible aim of banning them.
“These efforts to address flavors and protect youth would dramatically impact the ability of American kids to access tobacco products that we know are both appealing and addicting,” Dr. Gottlieb said in a statement. “This policy framework reflects a redoubling of the FDA’s efforts to protect kids from all nicotine-containing products.”
In a move that seems to be aimed at youth-oriented products like Juul, the FDA will be seeking to remove from the market any ENDS product that is marketed specifically to young people.
Finally, the FDA intends to pursue regulation that would ban menthol from combustible tobacco products.
“I believe these menthol-flavored products represent one of the most common and pernicious routes by which kids initiate on combustible cigarettes,” Dr. Gottlieb said. “The menthol serves to mask some of the unattractive features of smoking that might otherwise discourage a child from smoking. Moreover, I believe that menthol products disproportionately and adversely affect underserved communities. And as a matter of public health, they exacerbate troubling disparities in health related to race and socioeconomic status.”
The policy shift comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention releasedfrom the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey showing that use of e-cigarettes among high schoolers is on the rise, growing from 1.5% in 2011 to 20.8% in 2018. Middle schoolers saw use over the same time period increase from 0.6% to 4.9%.
The rise of current use of e-cigarettes was enough to reverse a declining trend in overall tobacco use in recent years between 2015 and 2017.
“FDA’s enforcement efforts and policy framework would restrict access to most flavored e-cigarettes and limit the chances of youth beginning to use these products, while ensuring the products are available to adult smokers as an alternative to combustible cigarettes,” Alex M. Azar II, secretary of the Department of Health & Human Services, said in a statement supporting the FDA’s efforts. “Our obligation at HHS is always to the public health, and we believe FDA’s goals strike the right public health balance in addressing the multifaceted challenge we have before us today.”
Under Dr. Gottlieb, the FDA has been aggressively pursuing ways to reduce tobacco consumption, targeting both ENDS and combustible tobacco regulations in an effort to limit nicotine exposure and reduce the number of people addicted to nicotine and the health issues that come with it.
The American College of Cardiology voiced its support of the FDA’s actions.
“The FDA’s announcement restricting the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and other tobacco products shows they are ready to do their part in making tobacco products less available to our children,” ACC President C. Michael Valentine, MD, said in a statement, adding that the medical community needs to continue to do its part to make sure tobacco use continues to decline, especially in the nonadult population.
The FDAwere published as part of an advance notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register. Comments can be made at through June 19.