The Food and Drug Administration is laying the proverbial “smackdown” on e-cigarette makers this week, particularly industry leader Juul, which the New York Times reports via Nielsen data, controls 72 percent of the market. The reason why? Teenage e-cigarette use is at epic proportions. The FDA says Juul and four of its competitors have 60 days to figure out how to keep their devices out of the hands of teens, or risk their products being forcibly removed from the market.
Although federal law prohibits the sale of e-cigarette and vaping products to minors, FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a briefing with reporters earlier this week that more than two million middle and high school students were regular users of e-cigarettes last year. TWO. MILLION. That’s a whole lot of nicotine-ingesting teens!
No available data on the effects of long-term e-cigarette use
Though e-cigarettes certainly have less dangerous chemicals in them than traditional cigarettes, Juuls in particular provide a very potent cigarette-like hit of nicotine, which of course is highly addictive. In addition, because they haven’t been on the market all that long, there is no data to show what physical harm e-cigarette usage does over a period of time. Our teens could still be slowly killing themselves with vaping…we just won’t know it for many years to come.
A spokesperson for Juul said in response to the FDA’s ultimatum that the company will “work proactively with FDA” and is “committed to preventing underage use of our product.” The other four companies cited by the FDA, MarkTen, Vuse, Blu, and Logic have also said they will cooperate.
The leading e-cigarette product has mass appeal to teens
The FDA has been investigating Juul’s marketing tactics since April, to ascertain whether or not they are trying to recruit teen Juul users, with the company providing thousands of pages in documentation. While Gottlieb says “I believe certain flavors are one of the principal drivers of the youth appeal of these products,” another appeal to teens certainly has to be the appearance of a Juul—they are small, easy to conceal, and look very much like an innocent flash drive. A tasty treat that gives you a nicotine high that parents and teachers are unlikely to notice? Sounds like something teens would certainly be interested in, whether it is specifically marketed to or not.
Gottlieb himself seems wary of Big Tobacco’s promises to keep e-cigarettes out of teen hands and mouths. “They say they’ve changed from the days of Joe Camel,” the FDA commissioner said. “But look at what’s happening right now, on our watch and on their watch. They must demonstrate that they’re truly committed to keeping these new products out of the hands of kids.”
However, the FDA isn’t just warning e-cigarette makers, but the stores that sell them and their nicotine pods as well. The agency’s statement said in addition to the warning issued to manufacturers, it issued over 1,100 warning letters to retailers such as Walgreens, Circle K, 7-Eleven and Shell gas stations. It also said it recently issued over 130 fines to retails caught selling e-cigarettes to minors, ranging from a few hundred to over $11,000.
Parents are #1 in the battle to prevent e-cigarette use among teens
While I’m glad the FDA seems quite serious about slowing down teen e-cigarette use, I feel that it will certainly be a difficult task. As always, I’m hoping parents will do some preventative work in talking to their teens about how easy it is especially for the not-completely-formed teenage brain to become addicted to nicotine, and about how very hard that habit is to break. As in all things “risky-behavior related,” moms and dads need to start talking to their kids about these things early, by late elementary school, and often, making the conversations ongoing rather than a “one and done.” For instance, your kids need to know not just WHY they shouldn’t try e-cigarettes, but also what to say when they are inevitably offered the chance.
Have your teens encountered e-cigarette use at school or with peers? What conversations have you had with them about it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.