That’s the federal agency’s answer if major makers of e-cigarettes don’t come up with ways to reduce use among teenagers.
A growing cloud of health concerns over an increase in teenagers using vaping devices has prompted the Food and Drug Administration to threaten a drastic change in the industry: remove the flavors that attract kids.
“That will kill our industry,” said Jay Akram, a co-owner of Smokies Tobacco Shop in the Berkshire Mall, a shop with about 500 vape flavors. “Everyone who is vaping, that is what gets them away from cigarettes.
“We tell them to choose flavors far from cigarettes, something sweet, so when they try cigarettes again, it will not taste good to them.
The shop does not sell to anyone under 18, the legal age for vaping in Pennsylvania.
The FDA has not approved vaping as an aid to stop smoking, in part because the long-term effects of vaping are unclear. But some say it helped them quit.
Brad Himmelberger of West Lawn likes the variety of flavors available, like key lime pie and honeydew melon.
“I’m addicted to nicotine. This has helped me not smoke,” said Himmelberger, 35. “I used to be a pack-, or a pack-and-a-half-a-day guy. Ever since I started vaping, I’ll have a cigarette every now and then, but I no longer have that need.”
If flavor was removed from vaping, Himmelberger said that he would make his own flavors because the components of vape juice can be purchased separately.
No rules until 2022
Companies are supposed to provide detailed safety and health data about their products before selling them, but the FDA did not enforce that rule before e-cigarettes went on the market. That review process is currently proposed for 2022, said Erika Sward, assistant vice president of national advocacy for the American Lung Association.
“It’s been the Wild, Wild West, with companies making flavors in any way they want with no oversight by the FDA,” Sward said.
From 2011 to 2015, teen vaping increased by 900 percent. In 2017, 2.1 million U.S. middle school and high school students said that they vaped in the past 30 days, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The 2018 numbers, expected to be released in the coming months, will show another large increase, a CDC spokesman said.
The two key chemicals associated with e-cigarettes are propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin. Both make the FDA’s list of items generally recognized as safe for ingestion.
“That’s for ingestion, not inhalation,” Sward said.
Another chemical found in some vape flavors, diacetyl, has been known to caused “popcorn-lung” in factories using the chemical to flavor microwave popcorn, Sward said.
“From a lung-health perspective, breathing chemicals into one’s lungs is not good,” Sward said.
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