Federal regulators are looking to take another step in curbing the spread of e-cigarettes among young people by proposing a ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes at retail locations such as gas stations and convenience stores.
And if buyers go online to purchase vaping devices, officials want to ensure they verify their age first.
The new restrictions are the latest the FDA has taken as the organization tries to rein in the dramatic increase in vaping by young people. Smoking of traditional tobacco cigarettes has fallen to a record low. But the popularity of e-cigarettes is soaring with youth.
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FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb fears one form of nicotine is replacing another.
"The bottom line is that we are creating a whole pool of kids addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes, some proportion of them are going to become longer term users of combustible tobacco that otherwise might never have initiated on tobacco,” Gottlieb said on Politico’s Pulse Check podcast.
The new regulations have drawn support from medical professionals such as Dr. Amy Sass, who works in adolescent medicine at Children's Hospital Colorado.
Research indicates e-cigarettes can affect teens’ brain development, and flavors such as mint, mango and cucumber really attract young users.
"It's a tremendous problem, not only in the number of youth who are experimenting with vaping, but also in those who have regular use habits and are becoming addicted to nicotine,” Sass said.
Outgoing governor John Hickenlooper also supports the FDA’s proposed actions. Colorado is among the leading states for teen vaping, and last week Hickenlooper announced his new statewise measures to limit it.
“What’s nice about this is that the FDA is following on and therefore amplifying public attention towards this issue,” Hickenlooper said.
Don Daniels, who teaches about tobacco risks at Chatfield High School in Littleton, welcomes the new crackdown. Convenience stores and gas stations are hotspots for teens buying e-cigarettes.
But Daniels’ students have already told him that they think they’ll still be able to buy online.
“Kids can have adults or older siblings buy the products for them, and that's already happening,” Daniels said.
While many in the vaping industry fear the FDA regulations will make it harder for adult smokers to quit, others understand the regulations and say marketing to young people has gone too far.
One of those voices is Ray Story, CEO of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, an industry trade group. Story said the vaping giant Juul has been “irresponsible” when it comes to teen use and marketing to minors.
Juul declined to comment for this story.
Matt Myers, president of the advocacy group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, urged the FDA to go even further.
"If FDA is serious, what it needs to do is ban the sale of all flavored e-cigarettes until it can review them individually and carefully. And at the same time, it needs to tackle the marketing of these products that have made them so popular,” Myers said.
The exact FDA rules are expected to arrive next week.