ICYMI: The FDA declares youth vaping an epidemic and enforces new regulation

The Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb declared youth vaping an epidemic.

He also said that the FDA will stop sales of flavored electronic cigarettes (ECIGs) if manufacturers can’t prove they are doing enough to keep them out of the hands of teens.

More than 2 million middle school, high school and college students use ECIGs, making the device the most popular tobacco product among young adults. Nearly 12 percent of high school students and 3 percent of middle school students used the device in the last 30 days, according to the 2017 National Youth Tobacco Survey.

“This move by the FDA is an important one,” said Melissa Bank, assistant professor in the WVU Department of Psychology. “There is compelling evidence that at least some ECIG companies have used tactics to market their product to youth, tactics which are similar to those used in the past by Big Tobacco. For instance, ECIGs have been marketed on social media outlets and television networks that are popular among youth and young adults. More recent evidence shows that companies are using cartoons to promote their products.”

ECIGs, or vapes, use a power source and a heating element to vaporize a liquid nicotine solution that is inhaled by the user, without many of the harmful chemicals that are found in traditional tobacco products, such as cigarettes. While the user doesn’t get the nasty chemicals in cigarettes and other tobacco products, there are still plenty of negative effects in using ECIGs, however the benefits are currently unknown.

“I think it is important to realize that there is still a great deal we do not know about ECIG products,” Bank said. “There currently exists thousands of different types of devices and liquid combinations, most of which have not been studied systematically. ECIGs have been on the US market for only a little over a decade and it is difficult for research to keep up with the products given how rapidly they change. In my opinion, the overall benefits of ECIGs remains to be seen.”

Users may be exposed to a variety of chemicals in the liquid, some of which are proven to be harmful to health.

“Even if ECIG use exposes users to fewer chemicals than cigarette use, these products are not harmless,” Bank said.

In April 2018, the FDA launches Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan to focus on marketing that makes ECIGs appealing to young adults and children. In May 2018, the FDA sent warning letters to companies engaging in this activity to stop misleading children.

“The significance of the new ruling is that the manufacturer of electronic cigarettes or vaping devices have a strict time limit to provide evidence that their products are not intended for kids and that they are engaging in responsible marketing practices that demonstrate that this is the cause,” said Dr. Linda Alexander, senior associate dean and professor of WVU School of Public Health. “If they don’t comply, there is the threat that all flavored vaping products will be banned.”

Because of the catchy marketing and addictive nicotine levels, there are concerns in the field that the vaping trend will lead to a new generation of smokers.

“The popularity of these small nicotine delivery systems has caused many experts to believe that rather than eradicating youth smoking, we have created yet another product that gets kids hooked,” Alexander said. “We do not know the long-term negative effects of nicotine or vaping with flavors. A major concern is that when we do have years of research behind us to say that these products are equally as health damaging as cigarettes, it will be too late for those who are now using these products as part of a trend.”