Here’s what to know about the FDA announcement.
On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) unveiled its much-anticipated new plan to fight underage tobacco use, targeting electronic cigarettes, flavored cigars, and menthol cigarettes.
The agency will move to have the sale of flavored e-cigarettes limited in brick-and-mortar locations to age-restricted retailers, such as smoke shops, or areas within stores that can only be accessed by individuals 18 or older.
Common retailers of flavored e-cigarettes, such as gas stations and convenience stores, will be hit hardest by the new regulation.
Menthol, mint, tobacco, and unflavored e-cigarettes will remain available for sale in all locations where they are currently sold.
The FDA is also increasing scrutiny on online sales of flavored e-cigarettes by seeking “heightened age verification processes.”
However, it’s unclear what these processes would be or how they are expected to be implemented.
“I will not allow a generation of children to become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in a press release.
“We won’t let this pool of kids, a pool of future potential smokers, of future disease and death, to continue to build. We’ll take whatever action is necessary to stop these trends from continuing.”
Restrictions on e-cigarettes were just one part of the agency’s new policies announced today.
In a historic move, the FDA is seeking to ban the use of menthol in traditional cigarettes and cigars, with Gottlieb noting that these provide kids with “one of the most common and pernicious routes” to start using tobacco.
Flavored cigars are also on the chopping block — a full ban on these products is also planned for the near future.
Why the FDA is making changes
The agency’s action comes as the result of disturbing new data on rates of adolescent and underage tobacco use.
According to findings from the National Youth Tobacco Survey, released on Thursday, 3.6 million middle and high school students identified as current users of e-cigarettes — a massive increase of 1.5 million students since last year.
That amounts to an increase of 78 percent of U.S. high school students who reported using e-cigarettes between 2017 and 2018.
Gottlieb famously called adolescent e-cigarette-use an “epidemic” earlier this year.
However, the FDA’s announced plan of action today has been met with mixed praise and criticism from doctors and advocacy groups.
Patricia Folan, RN, DNP, director of the Northwell Health Center for Tobacco Control in Great Neck, New York, told Healthline that increasing age restrictions is a necessary step to help curb sales to teens, but leaving menthol e-cigarettes on the market was a dubious proposition.
“[Menthol] makes initiation more pleasant. Once initiation is made easier, long-term addiction is more likely,” she said.
The American Lung Association also had a mixed reaction to the FDA’s plans.
The advocacy group praised the FDA for prohibiting sales of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, calling the action “a major step forward to reduce tobacco use.”
However, the ALA was critical of the proposed e-cigarette regulation, saying that the FDA’s plan leaves in loopholes for the tobacco industry.
“Partial measures and restrictions on the sales of e-cigarettes will not solve this nation’s e-cigarette epidemic,” said American Lung Association National President and CEO Harold Wimmer in a press release.
“Eliminating menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars [is] long overdue but today’s announcement doesn’t go far enough to protect our kids from e-cigarettes,” he said.
Advocacy groups had hoped for far more comprehensive action from the FDA, such as calling for a ban on all flavored e-cigarettes, including menthol.
The FDA’s announcement today was anticipated by e-cigarette manufacturers as well.
Juul Labs, a popular and often-criticized e-cigarette brand, began pulling some of their flavored products from the market earlier this week.
However, they said these products, which include flavors such as cucumber, creme, and mango, would still be available for purchase online with an age verification system through their website.
Juul Labs also announced that they would suspend social media promotion of their products.
Gottlieb said the FDA intends to keep looking for ways to protect teens.
“We’ll continue to base our actions on the best available science. And when it comes to protecting our youth, we’ll continue to actively pursue a wide range of prevention and enforcement actions. We’ll leave no stone unturned.”
The bottom line
The FDA will move to have the sale of flavored e-cigarettes limited in brick-and-mortar locations to age-restricted retailers, such as smoke shops, or areas within stores that can only be accessed by individuals 18 or older.
The agency is also seeking to ban the use of menthol in traditional cigarettes and cigars.