While the number of individuals suffering from an acute, vaping-related injury remains steady at just over 2,500, federal regulations on the devices contributing to the deathly illnesses appear to just be heating up.
On Tuesday, in a highly-anticipated move, the Food and Drug Administration announced a ban on flavored e-cigarette cartridges, including all fruit and mint flavors, but — notably — excluding menthol and tobacco (which is indeed considered a flavor here). Based on the new rule, companies will have 30 days to remove these flavored vaping products from their shelves before risking disciplinary action from the FDA.
While major retailers like Juul have already removed most flavored pods, earlier brands like NJOY will now have to take action. But both brands may benefit from a loophole in the legislation, which allows vaping stores to continue to sell “vape tanks.” Similar to pods and cartridges, tanks are stronger, long-lasting nicotine-containing devices that allow consumers to mix different flavors on their own and receive a stronger hit.
Although companies like Juul sell single-use pods only, online retailers have begun selling Juul-compatible tanks. On top of permitting this method of flavoring, health experts are taking issue with the decision to allow menthol to remain on the market. Technically considered a flavor, menthol offers a cooling effect with a minty taste that has the potential to be appealing to teens — the majority of whom prefer mint over other flavors.
As a result, the decision has been characterized as a reversal from President Donald Trump, who in September declared a plan to ban all flavored e-cigarettes outright, including tanking devices.
Still, in a statement from the FDA, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar insists the move is part of a “comprehensive, aggressive” approach to curbing the spike in teen use of e-cigarettes, which is estimated to include as many as five million nationwide.
“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,” said Azar. “We will not stand idly by as this crisis among America’s youth grows and evolves, and we will continue monitoring the situation and take further actions as necessary.”
Whether or not the regulations are stringent enough, the ban is inarguably a step forward in controlling a product that has enjoyed, virtually, free-reign of the market since its arrival in 2007. The FDA, which announced this fall that e-cigarette companies would have until May 2020 to submit for approval, has struggled to gain regulatory control of the product — in part due to companies classifying them as “smoking cessation products.”
Without specific rules on their products or marketing, parents, educators and school districts now allege that companies like Juul were able to specifically target kids. Juul denies these claims, insisting that it never meant to market to teens, nor create a product that could cause longterm damage. (At the time of publishing, Juul had not returned Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment on the new regulations). The company now faces countless lawsuits for which it will need to bolster this statement with evidence.
But based on Tuesday’s new ban, it seems the days of unregulated e-cigarettes may be over — which is exactly what FDA commissioner Stephen M. Hahn is aiming for.
“As we work to combat the troubling epidemic of youth e-cigarette use, the enforcement policy we’re issuing today confirms our commitment to dramatically limit children’s access to certain flavored e-cigarette products we know are so appealing to them …” Hahn said in a statement. “We will continue to use our full regulatory authority thoughtfully and thoroughly to tackle this alarming crisis that’s affecting children, families, schools and communities.”