Federal ban on flavored vaping products aims to curb underage use; critics say it’s the wrong move

Local (Utah/State News)

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Another change to e-cigarette sales came down the federal pipeline Thursday as the Trump administration announced it would effectively ban pre-filled flavored vaping cartridges, except for menthol and tobacco flavors.

Just weeks ago, President Trump signed a new law raising the minimum age to buy tobacco to 21 years old.

In a conference call with ABC4 News and other media Thursday, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the new policy targets flavored products because it’s the most appealing for minors.

“Youth overwhelmingly prefer cartridge-based e-cigarette products and the two flavors that we are not prioritizing – tobacco and menthol are much less likely to be used by kids,” he said.

Juan Bravo, President of the Utah Vapor Business Association argued that flavored vaping products are not the reason underage users begin using e-cigarettes, it’s just the preferred method.

“If you look at the NYTS data that the FDA has access to, it shows that flavors are way down on the reasons why youth use vapor products. If you have something that tastes like cigarettes and something that doesn’t, you’re going to go with the latter option. But that’s not why they’re using it,” said Bravo. “Cigarettes as a whole taste disgusting and yet, youth have been using cigarettes and cigarettes have been a thing. It’s not about the flavor.”

ABC News reported the push for tighter regulation comes in the midst of what the Center for Disease Control has called an outbreak of lung diseases linked to vaping, which began in June and peaked in September. The latest data showed more than 25,000 cases and 55 deaths so far.

Several lawsuits have been filed against e-cigarette companies, including the State of Minnesota which accuses Juul of targeting minors.

FDA Commissioner Dr. Steven Hahn said according to data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey, the number of middle and high school students using e-cigarette products rose from 3.6 million to 5 million between 2018 and 2019.

“No child should be using any nicotine-containing product and these overall levels of e-cigarette use are concerning because using e-cigarettes put them at risk for nicotine addiction and other health consequences,” said Hahn in the phone call.

Bravo believes issuing a ban is the wrong way to curb the teen vaping crisis and said there are better ways to tackle the epidemic.

“We know that nicotine is the addictive compound in e-cigarettes. Why not put a cap on nicotine instead? Why not make it harder to access by making something like ID scanners be mandatory? Why not impose heavier penalties on minors using the product?” he said.

Matt Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids argued in a statement that teenagers will shift to using menthol flavors if others aren’t available and that companies could reclassify sweeter mint flavors as menthol to avoid the ban.

Advocates said the ban would also contribute to the impact of unfair legislation that could cause small businesses to close down and eliminate jobs for an industry that supports youth prevention.

“We have always maintained it’s an adult product, for adult smokers. It’s irresponsible, in my opinion, to take an approach to ban a product rather than try and regulate it. Especially when you look at the evidence, it’s touted as being at least 95 percent safer than combustible cigarettes by the Royal College of Physicians,” said Bravo.

He added, “There’s been a lot of uncertainty. Utah is currently dealing with a very divisive issue in which the state is looking to handpick winners and losers based on arbitrary, grandfathered dates and determining which businesses get to operate and which ones do not.”

Secretary Azar said technically, all e-cigarette products that are currently on the market are illegal because of a law passed by Congress in 2016 that required the FDA to pre-authorize the marketing of new tobacco products. So far, officials said no products have received a marketing authorization.

“E-cigarettes have remained on the market only because we have been exercising enforcement discretion,” he said. “We aim to see whether e-cigarettes could serve as an effective off-ramp for adult smokers addicted to combustible cigarettes. We believe that remains a possibility.”

The new ban only applies to e-cigarette flavored products with pods that are pre-filled like Juuls.

“The immediate enforcement priority we’ve outlined are expected to have minimal impact on vape shops that both primarily sell non-cartridge N products and ensure purchases are of requisite age and are not purchasing for resale,” said Mitch Zeller, Director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.

CNN reports that moving forward, manufacturers that wish to market any vape products, including flavored e-cigarettes or e-liquids, must submit an application to the FDA for premarket authorization of their products. After May 12, the FDA intends to issue enforcement against any vape products that continue to be sold and for which the manufacturers have not submitted a premarket application, according to the HHS announcement.

The ban will be enforced in early February, 30 days from when the policy publishes in the federal register. ABC News reported that Trump indicated that the ban could be temporary while the FDA reviews applications to allow vaping and e-cigarette products back on the market.

Enforcement will also apply to all products regardless of type or flavor if there are no adequate measures in place to prevent youth access or if marketing is targeted towards minors.

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