The Food and Drug Administration, alarmed by a huge increase in vaping among minors, is expected to impose severe restrictions on the sale of e-cigarette products throughout the United States — actions that will probably have a significant impact on an industry that has grown exponentially in recent years with little government oversight.
As soon as next week, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is expected to announce a ban on the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes in tens of thousands of convenience stores and gas stations across the country, according to senior agency officials. The agency will also impose such rules as age-verification requirements for online sales, the officials say.
Gottlieb also is expected to propose banning menthol in regular cigarettes. The agency has been collecting public comments on such a prohibition, which is a major goal of the public health community but is likely to be strongly opposed by the cigarette industry.
The FDA’s initiatives on vaping are spurred by preliminary government data that show e-cigarette use rose 77 percent among high schoolers and nearly 50 percent among middle schoolers in 2018. That means 3.5 million children were vaping in early 2018, up 1 million from 2017.
Gottlieb, who once served on the board of a North Carolina vaping company, was at one time viewed as an ally of the e-cigarette industry, and he delayed some critical e-cigarette rules shortly after becoming commissioner in 2017. He has also said his first priority is protecting children from tobacco-related disease. Most vaping products are flavored, and studies show teenagers are attracted to the flavors.
“We now have evidence that a new generation is being addicted to nicotine, and we can’t tolerate that,” he said, referring to the vaping data in an interview before he made his final decision on e-cigarette policy.
The only exception to the flavored-products ban in convenience stores involves mint and menthol e-cigarette products. The FDA will continue to permit sales of those flavors because menthol is permitted in regular cigarettes, and the agency doesn’t want to give traditional cigarettes an advantage over e-cigarettes. But the FDA may extend the sales restriction to those flavors if teen vaping doesn’t decline, officials said.
Gottlieb’s actions apply to a specific kind of vaping product that dominates the youth market — e-cigarettes that use prepackaged flavor cartridges, or pods. That includes the wildly popular vaping products by Juul Labs. The restrictions don’t apply to the “open-tank” systems.
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