WASHINGTON • The FDA will crack down on flavored e-cigarette cartridges that are favored by teens.
Starting in February, the FDA will prioritize enforcement on certain unauthorized flavored e-cigarette products that appeal to kids, including fruit and mint. However, it exempts tobacco and menthol-flavored cartridges and the flavored liquids used in the larger tank-based e-cigarettes.
“Under this policy, companies that do not cease manufacture, distribution and sale of unauthorized flavored cartridge-based e-cigarettes (other than tobacco or menthol) within 30 days risk FDA enforcement actions,” according to the statement posted at fda.gov.
Public health advocates were disappointed that there wasn’t a full ban on flavored e-cigarettes, which President Donald Trump had previously supported four months ago. The changes mark a major victory for thousands of vape shop owners who sell the tank-based systems.
It’s good that the FDA is taking some steps to reduce e-cigarette products most enticing to teens, said Mississippi State University researcher Robert McMillen, who tracks teen tobacco use and other tobacco-related issues.
“Unfortunately, they’ve left a lot of doors open,” McMillen said. “It’s really frustrating that they continued to allow menthol in particular.”
Scott Stone, owner of Amaza Vapors in Tupelo, said the FDA action balances the need to combat underage use of e-cigarettes while preserving access for adults looking for less harmful alternatives to tobacco.
“I think they are on the right track,” said Stone, whose store has never allowed minors to purchase e-cigarettes.
The epidemic of teen vaping has pushed the FDA to act. The emergence of a vaping-related lung disease this summer added urgency; however, those cases largely appear to be linked to a contaminating filler added to illicit THC vaping liquids.
The small e-cigarettes like Juul that use prepackaged pods are by far the most popular among young users. The devices are small enough to be concealed easily and often look like thumb drives.
Prior to 2017, about 10 percent of Mississippi high school students were using tank-based e-cigarettes, McMillen said.
“Now 27 percent are vaping,” and most use Juul and similar e-cigarettes, McMillen said.
Rates of vaping among teens and young adults increased substantially after Juul launched its products with a savvy social media campaign.
“In my opinion, Juul went after teens,” Stone said.
The FDA actions announced Thursday also prioritize enforcement against manufacturers that do not take adequate measures to prevent access by minors, including age verification procedures for online sales and those who target products and marketing to minors.
Federal legislation signed into law last month increased the age to purchase tobacco products and e-cigarettes to 21 last month.
Both Stone and McMillen agree more regulation is needed for the e-cigarette industry.
“They need to be careful when they regulate (e-cigarettes), but I do agree they need to regulate,” Stone said.
Stone said he is particularly concerned about the lack of quality and safety control on black market and Chinese e-cigarette products and the ability of underage users to buy online. Amaza Vapes sells prepackaged e-liquids from four companies with facilities that follow strict manufacturing standards including the regulations that they anticipate the FDA will require in the future.
“We buy from reputable companies,” Stone said. “If something happens, we can find out when and where it was made.”
The FDA needs to clarify how it is going to enforce its e-cigarette policies. Ideally, penalties for selling tobacco and e-cigarette products to minors should be in line with alcohol sales, where stores face serious penalties.
“It’s really kind of vague about what’s going to happen,” McMillen said.
Even though tank-based systems have been less popular with teens since the advent of Juul, McMillen still sees a lure to young users.
“I’m really concerned about the flavors,” McMillen said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.