US teens love vaping. Earlier today (Nov. 15) the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the results of the most recent National Youth Tobacco Survey and found that kids under 18 who had smoked an e-cigarette in the last 30 days had skyrocketed from 1.5 million in 2017 to 3.6 million in 2018. Over 3 million of these teens are in high school, while the remaining are in middle school.
“These new data show that America faces an epidemic of youth e-cigarette use, which threatens to engulf a new generation in nicotine addiction,” Alex Azar, the head of the US Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement. (The FDA is one of the agencies in the Department of Health.) Although the new data are alarming, they are in line with a trend that started around 2011.
The FDA has become increasingly worried about teens using e-cigarettes. Although the products are often marketed as a replacement for adults trying to curb tobacco use, many e-cigarettes are sweetly flavored, which is a draw for teens. Some of these flavors contain dubious chemicals that have not yet been proven to be completely safe. There’s also evidence that teenagers who smoke e-cigarettes are more likely to switch over to traditional tobacco after less than a year.
In September, the FDA announced that e-cigarette companies had 60 days to figure out how to limit sales to minors before the regulatory agency would step in. Last week, rumors circulated that the FDA would ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes—excluding mint, menthol, and tobacco flavors (because those have long been standard cigarette flavors)—in convenience stores and gas stations across the country. In response, many vape companies, including Juul, which holds about 70% of the market, voluntary discontinued sales of their flavored cartridges in those types of businesses. In Juul’s initial statement about the discontinuation of its sweet flavored products, the company said it would allow stores that sell only to people 21 or over to continue selling flavored cartridges.
However, the FDA announced today that it would not be moving to ban the sale of flavored vape cartridges in stores completely. Instead, the agency will seek to enact rules that require e-cigarettes to be kept in separate areas of stores only accessible to customers over 18, the federally legal age to purchase tobacco products. (Some states have passed laws limiting sales of e-cigarettes to people over 19 or 21.) In addition, the agency said it will begin to pursue a ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.
It would likely take about two years for any kind of ban on these products to take effect, although tobacco company lawyers are sure to try to stop it from going through, the New York Times reports.