They will have to do just that — and soon — because teenagers could drive a truck full of Juul cartridges through the exceptions and limitations in the FDA’s “guidance.”
Originally, back in September, President Trump indicated that the FDA would halt sales of e-cigarette products in every flavor but tobacco. Along with a shockingly rapid spike in teenage vaping, recent surveys showed that youths were drawn to fruit and candy flavorings. As e-cigarette manufacturers such as Juul began withdrawing products so obviously designed to appeal to children, teenagers took up vaping mint-flavored e-cigarette pods. Mr. Trump’s initial proposal to permit the sale only of tobacco-flavored products, which would repel teenage palates but be acceptable to adult smokers trying to quit, was a suitably aggressive move to keep some e-cigarette options open to quitters without attracting millions of curious children.
Then Mr. Trump reversed course after conservative activists and industry representatives complained — and as political advisers warned him not to anger a passionate vaping community. The FDA revealed last month that it would continue to allow tobacco- and menthol-flavored pods to be sold. More concerning, whole classes of vaping products would be exempt. Vape shops could continue to sell e-liquids for refillable e-cigarettes in any flavor. Disposable e-cigarette manufacturers, too, would have wide latitude.
At the time, the FDA argued that its policy would crack down on the products that regulators knew teenagers were using. But preferences can change quickly. The New York Times reported in January anecdotal accounts of teenagers ditching Juul devices and moving en masse to disposable devices packed with e-liquids in flavors such as banana ice, sour gummy and cool mint. The question is whether federal regulators will keep up with changing preferences.
The FDA should not have allowed disposable, candy-flavored e-cigarettes to continue to be sold. Regulators should not wait until there is enough youth survey data telling them what should have been obvious in the first place: Easy-to-use, easy-to-conceal products such as disposable vapes in candy flavorings will attract children — and create new addicts. Waiting for more evidence that these products are hooking children would imply that it is acceptable for public health officials to sit back and watch while new addictions multiply.
It is already time for the FDA to announce a stronger crackdown.