Report chastises government for allowing flavored e-cigarettes


Despite national legislation that raised the minimum age of sale for tobacco to 21 in the United States, policies to curb tobacco use fell short in 2019, according to a report on federal and state policies.

A smoking teenage girl is shown. istockphoto.com

In its annual “State of Tobacco Control” report, the American Lung Association called out the federal government for issuing “inadequate guidance on flavored e-cigarettes that leaves thousands of flavored e-cigarettes on the market.” The organization urged Congress and the Food and Drug Administration “to eliminate all flavored tobacco products from the marketplace, including menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars, and e-cigarettes,” in 2020.

“Flavored tobacco products cause kids to become hooked, and now more than one in four teens (27.5%) are vaping, a staggering 135% increase over the past 2 years,” the association wrote in a news release. Federal guidance on Jan. 2, 2020, permits the sale of flavored e-cigarettes that do not use cartridges. This guidance represented a reversal after officials said in a prior announcement that regulators would “clear the market” of flavored e-cigarettes.

Graphic warning labels

The report also asked the FDA to reject product marketing applications that fail to meet public health standards, calls on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to “clarify and ensure that all tobacco users have access to a comprehensive tobacco cessation benefit,” and urges Congress to increase federal funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office on Smoking and Health to help stop youth e-cigarette use.

“Raising the federal minimum age of sale to 21, which took effect immediately on Dec. 30, was an important first step forward,” the report says. “The American Lung Association successfully advocated for the legislation to be comprehensive and to close state exemptions, such as for military personnel, while also not limiting states from pursuing stronger protections. Additional rules from FDA to provide guidance on the law’s implementation are forthcoming.”

The FDA is expected to release graphic warning labels for cigarette packs in March. After legal setbacks to the Tobacco Control Act of 2009, which required the FDA to ensure all cigarette packs had graphic warning labels by 2011, a judgment “compels FDA to release final graphic warnings by March 15, 2020, with the warning labels appearing on all cigarette packs by June of 2021,” the American Lung Association report said.

“While the American Lung Association recognizes the federal government with an A grade for passage of a strong federal Tobacco 21 law [raising the minimum age of purchase], it also earns an F for its failure to comprehensively oversee tobacco products,” said Harold P. Wimmer, national president and CEO of the American Lung Association, in the news release. “Without meaningful actions by the federal government, the health and the future of our nation’s children are being compromised.”

The federal government received an F for its tobacco tax policies, a D for cessation coverage, and an A for its mass media campaigns, “Tips from Former Smokers” and “The Real Cost.”

Grading states

In addition, the report graded each state and the District of Columbia in terms of funding for tobacco prevention programs, strength of smoke-free workplace laws, level of state tobacco taxes, and coverage of and access to services to quit tobacco. None scored all A’s, but California, the District of Columbia, Maine, New York, and Vermont ranked the highest. Alabama, Mississippi, and North Carolina, on the other hand, received all F’s.

In November, Massachusetts became the first state to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, and more states should follow suit, according to the association.

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