The FDA should release its data on youth use of tobacco

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Last month, the Trump administration announced a controversial regulatory decision that has spurred a uniquely heated debate across the country. In light of what the FDA has deemed a “youth epidemic” of e-cigarette use, the administration has decided to move forward with a ban on flavored vaping products. This ban, they argue, will help curb youth use and protect America’s teenagers.

Clearly, there is some sort of crisis with youth tobacco use in the country – no one is denying that. However, the FDA is withholding pertinent data that will provide the American people with the exact root cause of this crisis, which may end up being very different than what the current assumptions are.

The National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) is produced annually by the FDA and has served as the most comprehensive and timely compilation of data relating to youth use of tobacco. However, the most recent survey reflects findings from 2018, which was released many months before the flavor ban announcement.

It is not reasonable or in the best interest of the American people for the federal government to impose such an aggressive and blatantly anti-free market ban before the publication of the most up-to-date survey results. For that reason, 15 other consumer and tax policy groups to send a letter to the FDA urging them to publicly release the findings of the NYTS before taking any more steps with the proposed ban.

Though the FDA has alluded to more recent and relevant data, the American people have yet to see the results of the 2019 studies. This begs a question — why would the government move forward with a strong regulatory measure before releasing the materials to back it up?

The FDA claims to be a factually honest and completely statistic-driven organization, and while I don’t doubt their good intentions, it is import to ensure that the presented facts remain applicable to the conversation, and that these facts are not outdated and irrelevant. Given that the data is fluid and vaping products are relatively new on the market, the timely release of the NYTS results is crucial to making informed decisions on the matter.

Given that the main point of contention around the e-cigarette conversation has specifically involved flavors, the most recent survey needs to show what brands and flavors kids in particular are choosing. Rather than making a blanket, overarching flavor ban, without knowing exactly what it is kids are using, the FDA should pinpoint exactly what are the preferred choices among young and inexperienced users, and then go from there. They should also show that the incidence of vaping has increasing, as claimed.

Understanding the potential consequences of the flavor ban that are bound to unfold – such as a dark market of deadly counterfeit products and former smokers reverting back to old habits – it is imperative that the FDA use the most recent NYTS data in order to make sound regulatory conclusions. It is also equally as important that public health and policy experts be given access to that information as soon as it is available.

If President Trump chooses to move forward with this proposed regulation, I hope he does so with all possible data and statistics in his arsenal, in order to ensure that any enacted policy has a positive impact on our nation’s youth. Unfortunately, that outcome will not be possible until the FDA comes forward with the 2019 NYTS results and shares their findings with the American public.

Providing a comprehensive compilation of the facts to the public will provide transparency and assure that FDA regulators’ and the administration’s policies on vaping are well-informed and impactful for the whole country. American consumers deserve to know the facts.

Steve Pociask is president and CEO of the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit educational and research organization. For more information, visit www.TheAmericanConsumer.Org or follow us on Twitter @ConsumerPal.

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