FDA restricts sales of flavored e-cigarettes, proposes ban on menthol in tobacco

FDA restricts sales of flavored e-cigarettes, proposes ban on menthol in tobacco

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Thursday announced restrictions on the sales of most flavored e-cigarettes to crack down on the epidemic of use among minors. 

The sales will be limited to age-restricted, in-person locations, effectively ending sales at gas stations and convenience stores. 

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Online sales of e-cigarettes will still be allowed, but only under "heightened practices for age verification."

The FDA also released new data Thursday showing a 78-percent increase in e-cigarette use among high school students from 2017 to 2018, and a 48-percent increase among middle school students. 

The total number of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes rose to 3.6 million this year, an increase of 1.5 million over the previous year. 

"These data shock my conscience," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. "These increases must stop. And the bottom line is this: I will not allow a generation of children to become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes."

The proposed restrictions wouldn't apply to tobacco, mint or menthol flavors, the FDA said, because these flavors may be important in helping adult smokers transition away from cigarettes. 

Gottlieb has long argued that sweet e-cigarette flavors, such as cotton candy, have contributed to the increase of use among children.

Almost all adult smokers started when they were children, he said, adding that e-cigarettes could result in a new generation addicted to nicotine. 

The FDA also proposed a ban on menthol in combustible tobacco products, including cigarettes and cigars. 

More than half of smokers between the ages of 12 and 17 use menthol cigarettes, compared to less than one-third of smokers aged 35 and older, according to the FDA.

Menthol products also disproportionately harm African-Americans, officials said.

The FDA will also propose a policy to ban flavors in cigars to prevent use among young people.

Advocacy groups that have lobbied for restrictions on e-cigarettes applauded the announcement but said more needs to be done. 

"The FDA’s actions on electronic cigarettes are a step forward, but don’t go far enough," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

"It stops short of banning the flavors that have made e-cigarettes so popular with kids," Myers said, citing menthol and mint flavors. "With these flavors still widely available, it is doubtful that this plan will stem the tide of youth e-cigarette use and it will be critical for the FDA to quickly supplement the steps announced today."