Health and wellness

US cracks down on vaping ‘epidemic’ among children, with sales restrictions and flavour bans

  • Sales of most flavoured e-cigarettes will be limited to stores that only allow customers over the age of 18, taking them out of most convenience stores
PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 November, 2018, 7:38am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 November, 2018, 8:31pm

The US Food and Drug Administration has announced a series of policies to attack what it calls “the epidemic use of electronic cigarettes and nicotine addiction among kids.”

It imposed sharp restrictions on where flavoured e-cigarettes can be sold, and announced plans to ban flavoured cigars and menthol cigarettes. The use of all three products have been on the rise among youth.

“I will not allow a generation of children to become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes,” Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement on Thursday. “We won’t let this pool of kids, a pool of future potential smokers, of future disease and death, continue to build. We’ll take whatever action is necessary to stop these trends from continuing.”

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Sales of most flavoured e-cigarettes will be limited to stores that only allow customers over the age of 18, or areas of stores that have age-restricted entry. Gottlieb called on companies that cannot adhere to the restrictions to remove their products within 90 days.

The move aims to decrease the number of kids buying these products from convenience stores and service stations.

The FDA will also require enhanced age-verification for online sales. The restrictions will not apply to menthol, mint or tobacco-flavoured products for now, which Gottlieb said can help adults quit smoking.

The new policy builds on months of efforts by the agency to curb the trend of youth vaping. E-cigarettes – which look nothing like cigarettes – have become wildly popular with teens. The most popular brand, Juul, is designed to look like thumb drives, which can be charged on laptop computers and can be easily hidden in a sleeve. E-cigarettes produce tiny vapour puffs from pods that contain flavoured nicotine fluid.

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In the last year, e-cigarette use has jumped 78 per cent among high school students, according to new data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey released Thursday. More than 3.6 million middle and high school students currently use e-cigarettes, mostly flavoured ones. And more than a quarter of kids use the product daily.

In September, the FDA demanded e-cigarette manufacturers produce a plan to restrict sales to minors. The deadline for those plans passed last weekend. Juul Labs, which accounts for nearly 70 per cent of e-cigarette sales, announced earlier this week it would stop selling most of its flavoured products in retail stores. Another company, Altria, said late last month it would stop selling its pod-based flavoured e-cigarettes for now.

The FDA also announced plans to target flavoured cigars and menthol cigarettes, which are particularly popular among African-American youth. The agency is starting the process to ban both products.

Advocates applauded the move, saying it could help decrease racial health disparities.

“If adopted, these two proposals will have a greater impact in reducing tobacco use by youth and the African-American community than any regulatory measure ever undertaken by the federal government,” Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement.

Flavoured cigars and menthol cigarettes help mask the harshness of tobacco and can make it easier for youth to start smoking. National data show 70 per cent of African-American youth choose menthol cigarettes.

Gottlieb said the new policies represent a start, and the FDA is open to enacting more restrictions in the future.

“If the policy changes that we have outlined don’t reverse this epidemic, and if the manufacturers don’t do their part to help advance this cause, I’ll explore additional actions,” he said.