Teen vaping is at the tipping point before possible epidemic levels, federal officials and public health advocates agree, but they’re feuding over how fast and far to go to rein in the booming electronic cigarette industry.
Some of the health groups that sued the Food and Drug Administration for delaying regulation of vape products by four years charged last week that the agency let several new devices similar to the youth-favored Juul hit the market without approval.
Companies “have introduced new products at an alarming pace in total defiance of law, with no apparent concern for FDA enforcement,” the groups wrote.
More than 2 million middle school, high school and college teens use these battery-powered devices to heat liquid-based nicotine into an inhalable vapor. E-cigarettes were by far the most popular tobacco product among teens: Nearly 12 percent of high school students and 3 percent of middle school students used the device in the past 30 days, according to the 2017 National Youth Tobacco Survey released in June.
That puts hundreds of thousands of them at “exceedingly high” risk of developing nicotine addictions, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told USA TODAY. The nicotine, he said, “can rewire an adolescent’s brain.”
The agency has hardly ignored the issue. It is reviewing more than a half million public comments as it mulls whether to restrict or even ban flavors in the liquid and is investigating youth marketing by Juul, which attracts young vapers with its nicotine-packed products, easily hidden USB size and alluring social media presence.
San Francisco-based Juul said it has worked to keep its products away from minors and has taken action against online retailers that sold devices to underage vapers.
This month, the FDA asked four e-cigarette companies for information about the appeal of their products to youths and said it could take enforcement action against the companies based on what it learns.
In mid-September, the FDA will launch a vaping prevention campaign targeting 10 million youths who vape or are open to trying it, Gottlieb said. It will continue enforcement against retailers that sell to minors.
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