The Trump administration's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner says levels of e-cigarette use among young people are reaching new heights even as traditional cigarette use drops to historic lows.
Commissioner Scott Gottlieb remarked at a public hearing Friday in Silver Spring, Md., that it was shocking to him that the rate of young people addicted to e-cigarettes use, commonly referred to as "vaping," had reached levels where FDA-approved methods for quitting e-cigarettes could be necessary.
"A few years ago, it would've been incredible to me that we would be here today discussing the potential for drug therapy to help addicted young people quit," Gottlieb told FDA officials at the Friday meeting.
"I’m deeply troubled that we find ourselves at this crossroads today. In recent years, we’ve appeared poised to slay one of the most pernicious public health challenges of our times — the death and disease caused by cigarette smoking," he continued, adding: "Sadly, this progress is being undercut — even eclipsed — by the recent, dramatic rise in youth vaping. A few years ago, it would have been incredible to me that we’d be here, discussing the potential for drug therapy to help addicted youth vapers quit nicotine."
The problem, Gottlieb says, centers around an explosion in availability and popularity of e-cigarettes over the past year, in part fueled by the availability and convenience of JUUL brand e-cigarettes. Those factors have caused vaping rates to nearly double among high school students between 2017-2018.
"Unfortunately, data from the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey confirm that youth use of e-cigarettes has become an epidemic. From 2017 to 2018, there was a 78% increase in current e-cigarette use among high school students and a 48% increase among middle school students," Gottlieb said.
The current number of middle and high school students who regularly use e-cigarettes sits at 3.6 million, he added, an increase of about 1.5 million from the previous year.
Matthew Myers, president of the anti-smoking group Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, told CNN that rates of vaping among young Americans had reached "disturbing" levels.
"The FDA has concluded that the level of addiction it is seeing among youthful e-cigarette users is so disturbing and so unprecedented that it needs to at least ask whether we need a solution that goes beyond what we ever did with cigarettes," he told CNN last month.
In a statement to The Hill, a spokesman for JUUL condemned any use of its products among minors.
“Underage use of JUUL and any other vaping products is completely unacceptable to us and is directly opposed to our mission of eliminating cigarettes by offering existing adult smokers a true alternative to combustible cigarettes," said Ted Kwong, a JUUL Labs spokesman.
"We are moving full steam ahead on implementing our action plan to limit youth usage, and this is unchanged since we announced our plan in November," he added. "We will be a transparent, engaged, and committed partner with FDA, state Attorneys General, local municipalities, and community organizations in the effort to combat underage use.”