Story at a glance
- A new FDA policy enforcing the removal of certain e-cigarette flavors goes into effect today.
- The policy aims to remove appealing flavors like “mint” and “melon” from shelves to curb youth vaping.
- Since the ban won’t completely outlaw flavored products, some health experts are skeptical.
On Thursday, an e-cigarette policy will go into effect aimed at banning select flavors from the U.S. market in a bid to keep adolescents off vaping products. The Trump administration announced the “flavor ban” to take e-cigarette products that health experts believe are appealing to young people off market shelves.
The ban is also taking effect one day after executives from companies like Juul, Reynolds American, NJOY and Fontem told a House Energy and Commerce Committee subpanel that they did not intentionally market their nicotine products to underage youths.
Some of the flavors these companies have come under fire for have tantalizing names like “tropical twist,” “cherry blast” and “crème brûlée.” And while the industry has touted vaping products as an aide to help people quit smoking, federal studies have found that minors are more attracted to fruity or minty flavors for recreational use.
Under the new policy, the FDA will now no longer authorize or approve cartridge flavors other than menthol or tobacco — two flavors often used by adults working on quitting smoking altogether.
In January, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) outlined its enforcement priorities. The ban specifically targets electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), which are commonly known as cartridges. Inside of a vaping cartridge is a flavored nicotine and other chemicals. This is the product that is particularly addictive and the one that comes in many appetizing flavors that have widespread appeal.
The ban comes amid growing concern about youth vaping.
The FDA cited federal studies indicating that approximately 5 million middle and high school students in the U.S. have used an e-cigarette product within the last 30 days of being surveyed. Further studies make this result especially troubling, as the FDA warns that “evidence shows that youth exposure to nicotine can adversely affect the developing adolescent brain and that, compared with non-users, youth who use e-cigarettes are more likely to try conventional cigarettes in the future.”
These flavors, however, may not be leaving stores immediately.
The FDA notes, however, that this is not a technical “ban” on certain flavors; rather, this policy establishes that none of the flavors other than standard menthol and tobacco will have the FDA’s premarket authorization. Provided a product passes this review, it can be sold alongside menthol and tobacco flavors.
The official policy states the deadline to submit a product for this approval is set for May 12, 2020. E-cigarette products not covered under the FDA’s new policy will reportedly remain in stores for up to a year while reviews are pending.
This means that the manufacturers that want to “market any ENDS item — including flavored e-cigarettes or e-liquids — are required by law to submit an application to the FDA that demonstrates that the product meets the applicable standard in the law, such as whether the product is appropriate for the protection of the public health,” according to the January statement.
They will also have to take “adequate” measures to prevent minors’ access and cease all advertising to underage individuals, such as marketing campaigns tailored to a younger demographic. Companies that do not abide by these new measures and continue to market nicotine products to underage consumers within 30 days will “risk FDA enforcements.”
Another important component of this policy will be e-cigarette retailers, and their willingness to remove select flavors from shelves. The FDA said that it will “consider whether the manufacturer has implemented adequate programs to monitor retailer compliance with age verification and sales restriction,” such as establishing penalties against businesses that don’t comply.
Public health advocates, however, are skeptical. Matthew Meyers, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told Axios he was skeptical of retailers' willingness to help curbing youth vaping.
“More kids who purchase e-cigarettes today purchase them from vape shops and they have the worst track record for selling to underage youth,” he said. “There’s no reason to think that’s going to change."
Lawmakers and health experts also worry that the exemptions for menthol and tobacco will undercut efforts to deter youth vaping.
The FDA ended its announcement by stating that it “has demonstrated a deep commitment to taking steps to prevent youth from using and becoming addicted to any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes. This enforcement policy is an important step in the agency’s ongoing work to ensure these products are not marketed to, sold to, or used by kids, as outlined in the agency’s Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan.”