February 6, 2020

An FDA policy that orders companies to stop manufacturing, distributing, and selling certain flavored e-cigarettes takes effect Thursday, but health experts say the rule contains too many "loopholes" to effectively curb youth vaping.

Details on the guidance

FDA on Jan. 2 issued the new guidance  in response to a surge in youth e-cigarette use.

The policy, which takes effect Thursday, prohibits companies from selling unauthorized cartridge-based e-cigarettes with fruit, candy, mint, and dessert flavors. The policy does not apply to menthol and tobacco-flavored e-cigarette cartridges. The new policy also doesn't apply to open-tank vaping systems and disposable flavored e-cigarette pods.

Stephen Hahn, FDA's new commissioner, said officials developed the policy to target vaping products that are most popular among minors.

Juul Labs last year voluntarily stopped selling flavored e-cigarette pods that were popular among youth in the United States, except for menthol- and tobacco-flavored pods.

Experts express concerns as teens turn to disposable pods

However, health advocates have said the guidance contains too many "loopholes" to be effective against teen vaping, the Washington Post reports.

Kevin Schroth, a professor at Rutgers Center for Tobacco Studies, said he was "surprised" when he "saw that the FDA had this footnote that does carve out a loophole. These disposable, completely self-contained e-cigarettes like Puff Bar and others share all of the characteristics that made Juul a problem."

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and 29 other senators in a letter to FDA requested that the agency explain its decision to leave disposable flavored e-cigarette pods on the market. Merkley said, "Any administration that was serious about protecting children from nicotine addiction would realize that disposable e-cigarettes are the last thing we should be leaving on the market," adding, "Cheap, accessible, fruit-flavored vaping devices are tailor-made to ensnare children and teens."

Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said teens will switch from buying the banned cartridges to purchasing products that are exempt under the new policy.

And some schools already have reported an increase in students using disposable products from brands like Puff Bars and blu.

Lauren Williams, a teacher at McCracken County High School in Kentucky, said students have admitted to using "Puff Bars, which are disposable." She said, "Students are not using Juuls anymore because no one wants menthol or tobacco."

Kristina Rodgers, the principal of Roosevelt High School in Seattle, noticed a similar rise in disposable e-cigarette pods. "Teens are very savvy and if they are addicted, they are going to do what it takes to continue a habit that is now plaguing their lives," Rodgers said.

Another factor driving youth toward disposable e-cigarette pods is cost, the New York Times reports. Daniella Roth, a high school junior in California, said she started using disposable pods because they are more cost effective. "I'd have to save up $30 to buy a pack of Juul pods," she said. "Puff came out as the new popular thing that every single kid was doing and I hopped on that fad … It's basically like smoking a Juul."

FDA promises further action, if needed

According to Mitch Zeller, director of FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, the agency's data does not show an increase in youth use of disposable pods.

However, Zeller added that FDA will closely monitor the market and will immediately crack down on any manufacturers and sellers that are marketing or selling vaping products to minors. "Let us be clear, under this policy if we see a product that is targeted to kids, we will take action," Zeller said.

The agency also said it will take further action on e-cigarette products if data shows an increase in youth use of disposable pods or menthol and tobacco flavors.

Hahn said, "The good thing about this policy is we have the ability without jumping through a lot of hoops to change our enforcement prioritization based on the data we are getting in" (McGinley, Washington Post, 2/5; Kaplan, New York Times, 1/31; McGinley, Washington Post, 1/30; Manfield, Dallas Observer, 1/21).

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