US orders restriction on e-cigarette sales; youth use surges

Sunday, November 18, 2018

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TAMPA, United States (AFP) — US regulators last Thursday ordered sharp restrictions on sales of e-cigarettes, as national data showed a 78 per cent single-year surge in vaping among young people, with two-thirds using fruit and candy-flavoured products.

The proposed regulations announced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would allow flavoured e-cigarettes products to be sold in stores only, not online, and would also ban menthol in cigarettes and flavoured cigars.

The changes are open to a public comment period lasting until June before they can take effect.

“These data shock my conscience,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, referring to the latest data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey.

“From 2017 to 2018, there was a 78 per cent increase in current e-cigarette use among high school students and a 48 per cent increase among middle school students,” he said.

A total of 3.6 million US youths reported vaping at least once in the past month, the data showed.

“These increases must stop. And the bottom line is this: I will not allow a generation of children to become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes,” said Gottlieb.

The battery-powered devices heat a nicotine liquid that users inhale, and they are gaining popularity in the United States and abroad, particularly among young people, which Gottlieb has previously described as an “epidemic”.

The proposed rules aim to restrict sales of all flavoured vaping cartridges — other than tobacco, mint and menthol — to sales at “age-restricted, in-person locations and, if sold online, under heightened practices for age verification”, said an FDA statement.

The reason mint- and menthol-flavoured e-cigarettes are not included is they are more popular with adults who may be using them to decrease or stop their use of traditional cigarettes.

“This reflects a careful balancing of public health considerations,” Gottlieb said, citing data that shows mint- and menthol-flavoured e-cigarette products “are more popular with adults than with kids”.

At the same time, the FDA announced a proposal to ban menthol in combustible cigarettes and cigars.

“I'm deeply concerned about the availability of menthol-flavoured cigarettes,” Gottlieb said.

“I believe these menthol-flavoured products represent one of the most common and pernicious routes by which kids initiate on combustible cigarettes,” he said, adding that “menthol products disproportionately and adversely affect underserved communities”.

Stocks slide

Health experts applauded the FDA move.

“The banning of flavours, popular among teens, would definitely be an important step in curbing the growing epidemic of e-cigarettes among youth,” said Patricia Folan, director of the Center for Tobacco Control at Northwell Health, a network of hospitals in New York.

Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said “it is widely recognised that e-cigarettes are the gateway to smoking tobacco cigarettes for teens and young adults”.

E-cigarettes expose users to significantly lower levels of potentially toxic substances than traditional cigarettes, except for nicotine, the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine said earlier this year.

But Horovitz cautioned “there is a question of safety in e-cigarettes because of the presence of propylene glycol and other as yet unidentified compounds.”

Some e-cigarette makers have already taken steps to curb sales to young people, including JUUL, a fast-growing start-up which announced last Tuesday it is suspending in-store sales of various flavoured products and scrapping its social media presence.

JUUL flavours such as mango, fruit and creme will now only be available on the company's website, “where we are adding additional age-verification measures”, a statement said.

For its part, American tobacco giant Altria, maker of major brands like Marlboro and Chesterfield, said earlier this month it would stop selling two types of e-cigarettes that use “pods” of flavoured nicotine liquid for refills.

Altria will maintain the sale of its other e-cigarettes — which resemble conventional cigarettes and which come in traditional flavours like tobacco and menthol.

On Wall Street, tobacco stocks slid on the news, continuing a decline that began last week as media reports warned of the impending regulations.

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