If you haven't heard the FDA has issued its largest action in history sending "more than 1,300 warning letters and fines to convenience stores, gas stations and other stores over the summer for selling e-cigarettes to minors." It has also given electric cigarette manufacturers such as JUUL, Vuse, Blu, MarkTen XL and Logi 60 days to show that they are trying to keep their products out of the hands of minors. If they cannot do so the FDA has said it will pull all devices that contain flavors marketed to youth.
The FDA does not want to ban electric cigarettes but keep children from using them. The FDA has said it supports use by adults, specifically because e-cigarettes are helpful for quitting smoking. Unfortunately for them, it seems as though the main consumer of e-cigarettes is the youth.
While it is great that the FDA has taken action, I can't help but wonder why they waited so long?
Modern e-cigarettes were invented in China in 2003, although its conception dates back to 1927. However, e-cigarettes did not become popular in the US for many years. Since their introduction into the US, the FDA has been regulating the use and sale of e-cigarettes, but it has been largely ignoring the problem of youth use.
The first time I can remember seeing a student with an e-cigarette was when I was a sophomore in high school in 2014. From there e-cigarettes became more popular with students at my school as companies such as JUUL popped up. With the ability to get cartridges in a range flavors such as blueberry or peppermint, these companies were directly targetting youth that wanted the high a cigarette provides without the taste of one.
The saddest part of all is how uninformed users are. In talking with students who vape I have repeatedly heard that they believe vaping to be safe because it is not addictive and does not contain nicotine. This is far from the truth. Several studies have found that e-cigarettes do contain nicotine, and while it is at a lower level than regular cigarettes it is still present. Additionally, nicotine is an addictive substance, which means that vaping, in fact, can lead to addiction. The ingredients in the liquids used in e-cigarettes contain levels of toxic substances. So while we may not know the exact effects of vaping, it is undeniable that they are not harmful. We will just have to wait until they have been around long enough to know the long-term effects.
It's scary how similar the circumstances surrounding vaping are to the introduction of cigarettes. When cigarettes were first widely introduced to the US public, people were told that they were harmless. Smoking became a social thing to do. Similarly, many students are unaware of the dangers of vaping and engage in it as a social behavior. Cigarette use is at an all-time low, but instead of eliminating the problem we may just be replacing it.
Do I think that the FDA will really pull these products from shelves? No, not really. I think that like always drug companies will get away with poisoning our bodies due to their lawyers. Sure, maybe some new laws and regulations will be passed. Sure, maybe companies like JUUL will make a public statement saying they are against minors using their products. But at the end of the day its all lip service and I'll still be seeing teenagers vaping in school hallways or at parties. Just like how Big Tobacco has gotten away with promoting cigarettes in low-income and minority neighborhoods e-cigarette companies will get away with promoting their products to minors.