News from the FDA/CDC

FDA targets flavored cartridge-based e-cigarettes, but says it is not a ‘ban’


The Food and Drug Administration has taken steps to target the use of flavors in cartridge-based e-cigarette products among minors, but states it is not a “ban.”

e-cigarettes librakv/Thinkstock

On Jan. 2, the agency issued enforcement guidance alerting companies that manufacture, distribute, and sell unauthorized flavored cartridge-based e-cigarettes within the next 30 days will risk FDA enforcement action.

FDA has had the authority to require premarket authorization of all e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) since August 2016, but thus far has exercised enforcement discretion regarding the need for premarket authorization for these types of products.

“By prioritizing enforcement against the products that are most widely used by children, our action today seeks to strike the right public health balance by maintaining e-cigarettes as a potential off-ramp for adults using combustible tobacco while ensuring these products don’t provide an on-ramp to nicotine addiction for our youth,” Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.

The action comes in the wake of more than 2,500 vaping-related injuries being reported, including more than 50 deaths associated with vaping reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (although many are related to the use of tetrahydrocannabinol [THC] within vaping products) and a continued rise in youth use of e-cigarettes noted in government surveys.

The agency noted in a Jan. 2 statement announcing the enforcement action that, to date, no ENDS products have received a premarket authorization, “meaning that all ENDS products currently on the market are considered illegally marketed and are subject to enforcement, at any time, in the FDA’s discretion.”

FDA said it is prioritizing enforcement in 30 days against:

  • Any flavored, cartridge-based ENDS product, other than those with a tobacco or menthol flavoring.
  • All other ENDS products for which manufacturers are failing to take adequate measures to prevent access by minors.
  • Any ENDS product that is targeted to minors or is likely to promote use by minors.

In the last category, this might include labeling or advertising resembling “kid-friendly food and drinks such as juice boxes or kid-friendly cereal; products marketed directly to minors by promoting ease of concealing the product or disguising it as another product; and products marketed with characters designed to appeal to youth,” according to the FDA statement.

As of May 12, FDA also will prioritize enforcement against any ENDS product for which the manufacturer has not submitted a premarket application. The agency will continue to exercise enforcement discretion for up to 1 year on these products if an application has been submitted, pending the review of that application.

“By not prioritizing enforcement against other flavored ENDS products in the same way as flavored cartridge-based ENDS products, the FDA has attempted to balance the public health concerns related to youth use of ENDS products with consideration regarding addicted adult cigarette smokers who may try to use ENDS products to transition away from combustible tobacco products,” the agency stated, adding that cartridge-based ENDS products are most commonly used among youth.

The FDA statement noted that the enforcement priorities outlined in the guidance document were not a “ban” on flavored or cartridge-based ENDS, noting the agency “has already accepted and begun review of several premarket applications for flavored ENDS products through the pathway that Congress established in the Tobacco Control Act. ... If a company can demonstrate to the FDA that a specific product meets the applicable standard set forth by Congress, including considering how the marketing of the product may affect youth initiation and use, then the FDA could authorize that product for sale.”

“Coupled with the recently signed legislation increasing the minimum age of sale of tobacco to 21, we believe this policy balances the urgency with which we must address the public health threat of youth use of e-cigarette products with the potential role that e-cigarettes may play in helping adult smokers transition completely away from combustible tobacco to a potentially less risky form of nicotine delivery,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, MD, said in a statement. “While we expect that responsible members of industry will comply with premarket requirements, we’re ready to take action against any unauthorized e-cigarette products as outlined in our priorities. We’ll also closely monitor the use rates of all e-cigarette products and take additional steps to address youth use as necessary.”

The American Medical Association criticized the action as not going far enough, even though it was a step in the right direction.

“The AMA is disappointed that menthol flavors, one of the most popular, will still be allowed, and that flavored e-liquids will remain on the market, leaving young people with easy access to alternative flavored e-cigarette products,” AMA President Patrice A. Harris, MD, said in a statement. “If we are serious about tackling this epidemic and keeping these harmful products out of the hands of young people, a total ban on all flavored e-cigarettes, in all forms and at all locations, is prudent and urgently needed. We are pleased the administration committed today to closely monitoring the situation and trends in e-cigarette use among young people, and to taking further action if needed.”

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