The Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on the vaping industry due to “epidemic” levels of e-cigarette use among teens. U.S. health officials this week ordered manufacturers to reverse the trend or risk having their flavored vaping products pulled from the market.
Once discussed as a potential tool to wean adult smokers off combustible cigarettes, the products are now under scrutiny. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said he failed to predict the current “epidemic of addiction” among youth, driven mainly by flavored products.
E-cigarettes are small devices that emit a smokable vapor. Users click disposable liquid nicotine cartridges into the devices, often containing flavors like mint, chocolate, and various fruits.
Nearly 70 percent of the multibillion-dollar U.S. e-cigarette market belongs to a company called JUUL Labs. The company’s sleek, rectangular devices have surged in popularity in recent years. While JUUL contends its mission is to improve the lives of the 1 billion adults globally who smoke combustible cigarettes, critics argue its product, which looks like a simple USB drive, is especially attractive to teens trying to hide the device from teachers and parents. Plus, high schools and middle schools claim they are confiscating the devices by the handful.
On Wednesday, the FDA ordered the five largest e-cigarette manufacturers—Blu, JUUL, Logic, MarkTen XL, and Vuse—to come up with plans to stop underage use of their products within 60 days. If they fail, the FDA said it could block sales. E-cigarette manufacturers originally had an August 2018 deadline to submit their products to the FDA for review, but Gottlieb delayed the deadline last year until 2022, saying companies and the agency needed more time to prepare—but that could change.
“I think it became clear to the FDA that if they didn’t get their arms around this issue the use of these products by kids across the nation would undo decades of progress,” said Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Studies have found nicotine is harmful for developing brains, and a government-commission report released in January found teens who vape are more likely to try cigarettes.
With the vaping industry in crisis, Big Tobacco is on a high. Shares of tobacco companies surged in trading on Wednesday. —K.C.