FDA says it will start process to ban menthol cigarettes

Andrew Cummings
November 16, 2018

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.

The FDA chief vowed to take all necessary actions to stop these trends from continuing. "All the flavors were out there already", said Kenneth Warner, a University of MI emeritus public health professor who is a leading authority on smoking and health.

The FDA is seeking to limit the sales of e-cigarettes to "age-restricted, in-person locations" or under "heightened practices for age verification" when sold online. Under the policy, all-ages stores such as gas stations and convenience stories can no longer sell flavored vapes in full view of minors.

Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said "it is widely recognized that e-cigarettes are the gateway to smoking tobacco cigarettes for teens and young adults". Recent research shows that kids and teens may be more likely to smoke cigarettes and use other tobacco products if they pick up vaping. To date, 3.6 million students are now vaping.

"More than half (54 percent) of youth smokers ages 12-17 use menthol cigarettes, compared to less than one-third of smokers ages 35 and older", said Gottlieb.

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

Tony Abboud, executive director of the Vapor Technology Association, cautioned that restricting access to flavored products could imperil that possibility. "However, every "speed bump" that FDA puts up on the off-ramp for adult smokers is a threat to public health". But some say adult smokers switching to e-cigarettes have also helped in recent years.

The move comes more than two years after the FDA released its final proposed deeming rule extending its regulatory authority to all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, cigars, hookah tobacco and pipe tobacco on May 5, 2016.

The FDA must go through a rulemaking process, which requires significant public comment before finalizing any regulation on menthols. It is not clear when these policies could take effect.

Some e-cigarette makers have already taken steps to curb sales to young people, including JUUL, a fast-growing startup which announced Tuesday it is suspending in-store sales of various flavored products and scrapping its social media presence. The company also shut down its U.S. Facebook and Instagram accounts, which some have accused of marketing its products directly to young people. The agency never said that. "We must solve it". The FDA now bans sales of e-cigarettes and tobacco products to those under 18. The FDA first teased a flavored products restriction in September and has seized thousands of pages of documents from Juul and cracked down on retail sales to minors.

Gottlieb acknowledged that he could have taken more aggressive steps, "but I don't want to foreclose opportunities for now addicted adult smokers" to access e-cigarettes as they try to quit regular smokes. So I don't - I don't know where you're getting that statement from that we said there was going to be an outright ban.

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