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To Curb Youth Smoking, Vaping, FDA Announces Plan Aimed at Flavored Products

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The Food and Drug Administration announced aggressive steps aimed at curbing teen vaping and smoking Thursday, including restrictions on flavored and menthol products that may be especially appealing to minors.

The plan's announcement came as new federal data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey showed increasing rates in youth e-cigarette use, which FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has labeled an epidemic. In addition to concerns about the nicotine in vaping products, public health officials have found they can be a stepping stone to use of traditional cigarettes by young people who might not have otherwise started smoking.

More than 3.6 million middle and high school students surveyed in 2018 reported they had used an e-cigarette in 2018, a sharp increase from the 1.5 million students who reported use in the last 30 days in 2017, the data show. About one in five high school students and one in 20 middle school students use e-cigarettes, the data show. Teens also reported more frequent use of e-cigarettes and flavored nicotine products.

"These increases must stop," Gottlieb said in announcing the FDA plan. "And the bottom line is this: I will not allow a generation of children to become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes. We won't let this pool of kids, a pool of future potential smokers, of future disease and death, to continue to build. We'll take whatever action is necessary to stop these trends from continuing."

Gottlieb said he hears regularly from parents and teachers concerned  about "the epidemic use of electronic cigarettes and nicotine addiction among kids." And principals have told Education Week that vaping, and particularly the use of small, concealable devices like Juuls, have created new discipline and student health concerns that they struggle to keep up with.

While devices like Juul, a vaping device that could easily be mistaken for a USB flash drive, are intended to help adults stop smoking traditional cigarettes, federal regulators say they've developed a large secondary market among middle and high school students. And anti-smoking groups say many teens don't recognize they are ingesting nicotine when they use them. Both groups point at flavors, like mango and gummy bear, as part of the products' appeal to teens.

On Tuesday, Juul Labs announced voluntary plans to stop sales of flavored products in retail stores and to use more rigorous age verification for online sales.

The FDA plan would impose stricter limitations. Under the FDA plan:

  • Vaping cartridges in flavors other than menthol, tobacco, and mint could only be sold in locations that restrict access to customers who are 18 and older, which would eliminate many convenience stores.
  • Heightened measures to ensure age verification for online sales of e-cigarette and nicotine products.
  • The agency would ban products marketed to children through the use of "popular children's cartoon or animated characters, or names of products favored by kids like brands of candy or soda."
  • The agency proposes a ban on menthol in traditional cigarettes and cigars, which will surely face some resistance from adult smokers.

Schools Scramble to Deal With Vaping

Francis Thompson, the principal of Jonathan Law High School in Milford, Conn., said the FDA plan is long overdue.

The vaping problem grew long before schools realized students were experimenting with e-cigarettes and before federal regulators had taken steps to control how they are marketed, he said, and now some students are fully addicted. Thompson said other superintendents have reported disciplining students as young as fifth grade for carrying vaping products in school.

"I'm really glad to see that we are doing something," he said of the new rule. 'The key for me is what else are we going to do for the kids we've missed?"

Thompson fears that students will still find ways to obtain vaping products, especially if stores aren't dilligent about checking IDs. And he worries that students who are now addicted will influence their younger peers to start.

Law High School has cracked down on extended bathroom breaks, when students tend to vape, and it has supplemented its discipline with cessation efforts and parent education.

"There is a generation of kids who are addicted," Thompson said, "and when you're addicted to that nicotine, you're going to do what it takes to try to get some."

Photo: Marshfield High School Principal Robert Keuther displays vaping devices that were confiscated from students in Marshfield, Mass. --Steven Senne/AP


 Learn more about Juul, teen vaping:

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