Bowing to recent pressure from the Food and Drug Administration, e-cigarette manufacturers like Juul Labs will suspend sales of most e-cigarette pod flavors.
The change follows criticism from the public and government of the manufacturer’s role in fueling the widespread usage of e-cigarettes among underage teens. Usage of e-cigarettes among college students is rising as well: the percentage of college-aged people who use the product jumped from 7.1 percent in 2011 to roughly 16 percent in 2016, according to the Center for Disease Control.
A typical Northwestern party features more than a few people with Juuls, and some students noted how there is peer pressure to use e-cigarettes.
Although Juul denies targeting teenagers, US. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) criticized the company for naming flavors, “tutti frutti,” “bubble gum” and “cotton candy” to lure teenagers, making them customers “for life.” Much of the company’s earlier advertisements featured young people under 35 and actors who weren’t real users of its products.
The FDA now plans to restrict youth access to e-cigarettes by banning sales of certain flavors in public areas. The changes would protect teens by requiring all flavored products to be sold in age-restricted, in-person locations, while online sales would require heightened practices of age verification, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a Nov. 15 news release. The FDA also plans to pressure manufacturers to redirect marketing strategies to curb youth appeal and access of e-cigarette products.
Vaping among high schoolers increased 80 percent in the past year, according to FDA data. Shocked by this jump in youth access to e-cigarette products, Gottlieb said he “will not allow a generation of children to become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes.”
Eric Lindblom, the Director for Tobacco Control and Food and Drug Law at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, said companies agreeing to stop selling e-cigarette flavors in public areas is “a major step” forward, but FDA regulation for e-cigarette products is long overdue.
“But the real question is, is there going to be compliance?” He asked. “Is the FDA going to put something in place so other companies don’t come in and start selling their flavored products at retail outlets kids can access?”
During the Obama administration, the Office of Management and Budget prevented the agency from issuing a “single, powerful rule that would actually reduce the death toll from smoking and other tobacco use in a significant way,” Lindblom said. There was no support from the White House in imposing regulations, either from the president or the domestic policy staff.
Though the Trump administration seems to be allowing the FDA to taking “major action” so far, Lindblom is worried that the administration’s anti-regulation policies will hinder the FDA in its attempts to impose restrictions.
“The question is, are they going to let Gottlieb and the FDA to do this,” Lindblom said. “Or is this big anti-regulation hammer going to come down at some point and stop the FDA in its tracks and not really let them do anything?”
McCormick freshman John Tan said Juul’s marketing is “schematic” in targeting the youth and the company should “tone it back down” to reach a more generalized audience.
“It’s pushing on to that peer pressure aspect,” Tan said. “If they’re able to grasp onto the youth and portray it as something that’s cool to do, then they’re able to grasp onto a lot more people.”
By getting involved, Tan said the FDA is taking a step in the right direction. Young people should not be using e-cigarettes, especially considering that many teenagers don’t understand the risks associated with nicotine usage, he said.
Feinberg Prof. Dr. Brian Hitsman, who has researched nicotine dependence, agreed that there is not enough research available on e-cigarette devices and their safety.
“There’s a certain portion of people that think or assume that they’re more safe than cigarettes, but we really don’t know that,” Hitsman said. “The evidence isn’t there.”
Communication freshman Hope Valls is skeptical the FDA’s new regulations will be effective. At her high school, she said teenagers were already addicted to nicotine from juuling, and flavorings didn’t matter anymore — the way Juul was marketed as a safe alternative to smoking and the relative accessibility of the devices are the real problem.
Valls said the new regulations may not affect college students as much as younger age groups.
“I think it matters less to a twenty-year-old whether they have tutti frutti or mint,” Valls said. “But to a fifteen-year-old, it might matter.”
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