Welcome to the Senate Republican Press Search.

View Article Details

Print

FDA calls teens’ e-cigarette use an ‘epidemic’

State Journal Register

Thursday, September 13, 2018  |  Article  |  Carla Jimenez

Tobacco, Smoking Ban, E-Cigarettes

U.S. health officials on Wednesday called teenage use of e-cigarettes and other vaping materials an “epidemic,” citing the growing number of young people using alternative smoking products.

 

The Food and Drug Administration ordered e-cigarette makers to reverse the trend or risk having their flavored vaping products pulled from the market.

 

In Illinois, 13.2 percent of high school students use e-cigarettes, according to a 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, 7.6 percent smoked a traditional cigarette at least once over a 30-day period, 5.6 percent used smokeless tobacco and 8.1 percent smoked cigars at least once over 30 days. Illinois’ rates line up mostly with use among teenagers nationally.

 

Meredyth Swafford, 17, is a senior at Springfield High School who uses Juul products. Juul is a brand of vaporizer known as a sleek alternative to other e-cigarettes and vape pens.

 

The machine itself is called a Juul that is rechargeable by USB port. Flavored nicotine comes in pods that snap into the machine. Each pod contains the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.

 

Meredyth started “juuling” at the start of this year. She had smoked cigarettes in the past but has made the transition to juuling exclusively. Now, she can’t stand the taste of a traditional cigarette.

 

She made the switch after her friends started using it more.

 

“A lot of my friends do it and have been for a lot longer than I have,” she said. “They would just be like, ‘Hey you want to try this?’ The first time I really did, it was like an instant hook.”

 

Under Illinois law, purchase of tobacco and e-cigarette products is prohibited to those under 18, but Meredyth says there are ways around it, like asking people who are 18 to buy her pods for her. There are even some shops that don’t ask for identification.

 

Last month, Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a proposed bill that would have raised the tobacco purchasing age to 21.

 

Anecdotally, juuling has been on the rise among teenagers, and the Juul brand is preferred among young people. The brand accounts for 70 percent of U.S. sales, according to analyst estimates.

 

Meredyth thinks part of Juul’s popularity is social, but she also thinks the technology in a Juul product makes it look much cooler and sleeker than other e-cigarette products. She even compared the product to an iPhone.

 

“They just taste better, they’re easy to consume,” she said. “They’re sleek and pretty.”

 

The FDA’s statements on Wednesday mark a shift in the agency’s tone on e-cigarettes. Since 2017, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb has discussed e-cigarettes as a potential tool to ween adult smokers off cigarettes, although that benefit hasn’t been proven.

 

But Gottlieb said in an address at FDA headquarters that he failed to predict the current “epidemic of addiction” among youth, mainly driven by flavored products.

 

“The disturbing and accelerating trajectory of use we’re seeing in youth and the resulting path to addiction must end,” Gottlieb said.

 

The FDA said it remains committed to exploring e-cigarettes as a less-harmful alternative for adult smokers, but Gottlieb added “that work can’t come at the expense of kids.”

 

Erika Sward, the national assistant vice president for advocacy for the American Lung Association, agreed with the FDA’s assessment that youth e-cigarette use is an epidemic.

 

But she also said the FDA was not doing enough to stem use among teenagers. Under regulations from the Obama administration, e-cigarette and vaping manufacturers were supposed to submit products for review by August 2018. However, last year the FDA extended the deadline until 2022, saying the agency needed more time.

 

“The American Lung Association recognizes that what is needed right now is meaningful action on the part of the Food and Drug Administration,” Sward said.

This is why the American Lung Association joined in a lawsuit with other anti-tobacco advocacy groups against the FDA in the hopes of pressuring the agency to act more quickly.

 

Sward said the way to curb e-cigarette use is to treat them the same as tobacco products by levying taxes on them and including them in smoke-free laws and youth prevention programs.

 

These strategies have led to lower rates of smoking traditional cigarettes, Sward said, and would do the same for e-cigarettes.

 

The American Lung Association also advocates banning flavored products altogether.

 

″(We are) eager for meaningful action and encourages the FDA to move forward with prohibiting the sale of all flavored tobacco products,” Sward said.

 

Under Wednesday’s announcement, the five largest e-cigarette manufacturers will have 60 days to produce plans to stop underage use of their products. The companies sell Vuse, Blu, Juul, MarkTen XL, and Logic e-cigarette brands, which account for 97 percent of U.S. e-cigarette sales, according to FDA.

 

If the plans fall short, the FDA could block sales of the products by enforcing a requirement that companies provide detailed design and health data about their products before marketing them. The FDA’s delay on that requirement has allowed the industry to flourish with little oversight.

 

Meredyth is not proud of her habit. She is aware of the dangers nicotine usage poses to her health.

 

But as of right now, she continues to do it.

 

“I guess I’m just making the active choice, but I don’t think it’s a good thing,” she said. “I’m not particularly proud of myself. If I could stop easily, or if i could make it healthy, I would.”