By Tony Edwards, DrBicuspid.com editor in chief

November 16, 2018 -- Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and their flavor delivering systems, known as pods, will continue to be sold in U.S. stores but only in areas that are off-limits to minors, according to a November 15 directive from U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD.

The directive also allows for continued online sales of these products but with "heightened practices for age verification," according to an FDA release. Best practices for online sales would be available soon, the agency noted.

“I'm pursuing actions aimed at addressing the disturbing trend of youth nicotine use.”
— Scott Gottlieb, MD, FDA commissioner

"Today, I'm pursuing actions aimed at addressing the disturbing trend of youth nicotine use and continuing to advance the historic declines we've achieved in recent years in the rates of combustible cigarette use among kids," Dr. Gottlieb stated.

The directive must clear U.S. government regulatory processes before they are put into place, according to published reports.

The FDA's actions were announced in tandem with a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that showed a sharp increase in e-cigarette use by U.S. teenagers.

From 2017 to 2018, tobacco use of any kind increased 38% for high school students and 29% for middle school students. This was due to a dramatic rise in e-cigarette use over the past year.

Menthol and mint flavors

The FDA statement specifically excludes pods with tobacco, mint, and menthol flavors. Published data show that these flavors are more popular with adults than with minors, according to Dr. Gottlieb, and he did not wish to ban a product that might help adults who smoke transition away from cigarettes.

"This is a difficult compromise that I'm trying to strike, recognizing the public health risk posed by cigarettes still being available in menthol flavor," he stated.

These directives are the latest steps by the FDA and manufacturers to reduce e-cigarette use by minors during 2018.

On November 13, JUUL Labs announced it would stop selling flavored pods in 90,000 U.S. retail locations (except for mint, menthol and tobacco flavors) and end its social media promotions. The company also said it would tighten online purchase restrictions, including two-factor authentication and real-time photo requirements by the end of 2018.

Dr. Gottlieb also cited a series of critical enforcement actions during summer 2018 that included issuing more than 1,300 warning letters and fines to retailers who illegally sold e-cigarette products to minors and the announcement in April 2018 of a four-part plan of enforcement and regulatory steps to stop U.S. youth from having access to and using e-cigarettes.

Not far enough

The FDA's actions on e-cigarettes are a step forward but don't go far enough, according to the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Matthew Myers.

The FDA's plan "stops short of banning the flavors that have made e-cigarettes so popular with kids," Myers noted in a statement. "Menthol and mint flavors will remain widely available despite new data being released today that show 51% of high school students who currently use e-cigarettes use menthol- or mint-flavored products."


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