United States calls teen e-cig use an 'epidemic'

Maricruz Casares
Setiembre 14, 2018

US health officials are sounding the alarm about teenage use of e-cigarettes, calling the problem an "epidemic" and ordering manufacturers to reverse the trend or risk having their flavored vaping products pulled from the market.

"The disturbing and accelerating trajectory of use we're seeing in youth and the resulting path to addiction must end", Scott Gottlieb, head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said.

"We're committed to the comprehensive approach to address addiction to nicotine that we announced a year ago", said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

"Today, we asked five e-cigarette manufacturers to put forward plans to immediately and substantially reverse these trends, or face a potential decision by the FDA to reconsider extending the compliance dates for submission of premarket applications", Gottlieb said.

JUUL was among those to receive FDA warnings and requests for further details about its marketing practices.

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Of the 3.6 million middle- and high-school students who said in 2017 they are current tobacco-product users, 2.1 million used e-cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Inevitably what we are going to have to contemplate are actions that may narrow the off-ramp for adults who see e-cigarettes as a viable alternative to combustible tobacco in order to close the on-ramp for kids", he told reporters. The companies sell Vuse, Blu, Juul, MarkTen XL, and Logic e-cigarette brands, which account for 97 percent of US e-cigarette sales, according to FDA. They also show that the nicotine in e-cigarettes is addictive, and that the other chemicals added as part of the flavoring might be harmful. The "epidemic" perceived by the FDA is mainly an epidemic of e-cigarette experimentation, and even that trend seems to have reversed, judging from the latest NYTS results. Companies whose products are pulled from shelves will have to prove a net positive public health benefit before sales can resume.

However, there is little consensus about how to regulate the industry. "By working together, we believe we can help adult smokers while preventing access to minors, and we will continue to engage with the FDA to fulfill our mission".

If these companies fail to comply, the agency said it would consider requiring them to stop selling flavored tobacco products, which critics say appeal more to young smokers. Altria Group Inc. and British American Tobacco Plc had the biggest one-day percentage gain in about a decade. Gottlieb called the action the largest coordinated enforcement effort in the agency's history.

The federal agency issued more than 1,300 warning letters and fines to retailers who illegally sold e-cigarette products to minors during a nationwide, undercover blitz of brick-and-mortar and online stores from June through August. He listed three reasons the company became so successful: It figured out how to deliver high levels of nicotine in a way that wasn't harsh; it packaged the product in a streamlined, clever way; and it developed a social media and advertising campaign that made a Juul e-cigarette "cool and hip".

"In my view, they treated these issues like a public relations challenge rather than seriously considering their legal obligations, the public health mandate, and the existential threat to these products".

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