The Trump administration said Wednesday the nation’s top health officials are preparing to “clear the market” of all but tobacco-flavored vape products, including mint and menthol.
“The Trump Administration is making it clear that we intend to clear the market of flavored e-cigarettes to reverse the deeply concerning epidemic of youth e-cigarette use that is impacting children, families, schools and communities,” Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. “We will not stand idly by as these products become an on-ramp to combustible cigarettes or nicotine addiction for a generation of youth.”
The surprise announcement comes amid a deadly outbreak of severe lung illnesses linked to vaping that has sickened hundreds of people across the country, including at least six who have died. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently helping state health departments investigate about 450 cases of the mysterious lung disease.
Acting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Ned Sharpless, who has been criticized for not confronting the youth vaping crisis with the same zeal as his predecessor, Scott Gottlieb, said his agency is prepared to take further action to curb the continuing surge in youth vaping if needed.
Over the next several weeks, the FDA will finalize a plan that would require the removal of most flavored vape products from the market. The plan would take effect 30 days after its release. Any flavored vape product would require specific FDA approval before it could return to market. Regulators have indicated that flavored vape products would not receive FDA approval given the role such products have played in the youth vaping epidemic.
San Francisco-based vape maker JUUL shoulders most of the blame for surging rates of nicotine addiction among children, teens, and young adults. JUUL specifically targeted U.S. youth with its product design and marketing strategies, including offering pods in a variety of fruit and candy-like flavors that especially appeal to minors.
Research shows that more than a quarter of high school students and one in 20 middle school students currently vape. Nearly all teen vapers use fruit, menthol, or mint-flavored e-juice or pods, and most of them didn’t know that JUUL pods and other brands contain nicotine or weren’t aware of nicotine’s health risks and addictive qualities.
Many municipalities across the country have passed laws to ban the sale of flavored vape products. Bills proposing a hike in the legal age to buy vapes from 19 to 21 are also in the works. But as with laws governing the sale of conventional tobacco products, these restrictions have done little to prevent minors from accessing the vape products of their choice.
Preliminary data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey shows that youth vaping continues to rise dramatically, especially with non-tobacco flavors. Dr. Sharpless and Sec. Azar said that if vaping rates continue to escalate after the flavored vape ban, the FDA will take further action to address that use.
“If we find that children start surging into tobacco flavored e-cigarettes or if we find marketing practices that target children and try to attract them into tobacco flavored e-cigarettes, we will engage in enforcement actions there also,” Sec. Azar told the press.