FDA's new tobacco rules don’t do enough to address underage vaping ‘epidemic,' says advocate

The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) new tobacco rules don’t do enough to address the rise of vaping among kids and teenagers, according to Denny Henigan from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

“When you have an epidemic of nicotine addiction among kids, we’ve got to go beyond these baby steps the FDA has been taking,” Henigan, who is the nonprofit group's vice president of legal and regulatory affairs, told Hill.TV co-hosts Juanita Tolliver and Buck Sexton during an interview on Tuesday.

The FDA last week unveiled sweeping restrictions aimed at reducing underage vaping products that deliver nicotine without the need to burn tobacco.

The new guidelines include limiting the sale of e-cigarette products to age-restricted stores like vape shops and requiring stricter age verification on online sales. The agency also announced plans to ban menthol cigarettes and cigars.

The new rules coincided with the release of a new survey by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found that use of e-cigarette among high schoolers spiked to 78 percent from 2017 to 2018.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids praised the FDA’s new restrictions, saying in a statement that its proposal to prohibit menthol cigarettes and cigars had “enormous potential” to drive down tobacco use and related deaths and disease.

But Henigan asserts that these steps don't go far enough when it comes to dealing with the pervasive promotion and marketing of vaping products to teens and kids. 

“They focused on access to the product at the retail level, so basically the FDA is saying if you want to continue to sell these products, certain flavors have to be inaccessible to kids in the store, either the store has to be all-adult or it has to set up a section of the store that’s all-adult, the problem is that where a company has created such intense demand among kids,” he said.

To make matters worse, he said that vaping companies are now mimicking a lot of the tactics and strategies long used by cigarette companies to market their products to kids.

“The use of flavors is one such strategy, there are now something like 15,000 discreet e-cigarette flavors out there — a lot of them are gummy bear, wild cherry, the kind of things that are going to appeal to kids,” Henigan told Hill.TV.

Henigan said he believes that the FDA needs to take a more active approach when it comes to reviewing e-cigarettes, arguing that vaping products need to be evaluated on an individual basis to ascertain their impact on public health.

In September, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CNBC that the agency may fast-track a review process for the burgeoning new e-cigarette industry after acknowledging that teen use had reached "epidemic" levels.

Henigan said he intends to "urge" FDA officials to follow through on putting a public health review in place sooner rather than later as the popularity and consumption of e-cigarettes continues to soar among teens. 

— Tess Bonn