Juuls, menthols and e-cigarettes, oh my — the FDA cracks down finally

Big update today because there’s a LOT to talk about.

Well, the FDA did it, they came down fairly hard on e-cigs. And not just e-cigs, but finally came down on menthol cigarettes and flavoured cigars like Swisher sweets.

I keep scratching my head and asking myself … wait, this is the Trump Administration? The incredibly anti-regulatory and pro-business Trump Administration imposing a whole bunch of new regulations on e-cigs and cigaretttes.

The FDA is making its move as new figures from the Centers for Disease Control show a 78 percent increase in the use of vaping among teenagers since 2011.

E-cig use by teens went up from 1.5 percent of teens in 2011 to 20.8 percent of teens in 2018, according the CDC. The industry has played coy and cutesy about

From an NBC story:

“These data shock my conscience: From 2017 to 2018, there was a 78 percent increase in current e-cigarette use among high school students and a 48 percent increase among middle school students,” said FDA administrator Scott Gottlieb.

We’re not telling the retail stores you can’t sell them,” Gottlieb said. “If the establishments want to continue to sell these fruity flavored products, they’re going to have to put into place measures that will make sure they are not going to get into the hands of kids,” Gottlieb told NBC News.

OK, this is a big story that kept getting bigger, so let’s start with e-cigs.

Restrictions on sales of e-cigs and e-cig flavours

The new e-cig policy is confusing and I’m still trying to parse it.

Tthe FDA’s proposal would limit the sale of these products in retail stores to closed-off areas that are inaccessible to minors.”

I’m not positive what these means, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen an “adults only” area in a minimart. So, I guess that means no more e-cig sales or fruity flavours on display on the counters of minimarts and convenience stores. This seems slightly watered down from the proposed rules that were leaked last week, which flat out said a ban on sales in minimarts and convenience stores.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Children also wonders what “adults only” actually means.

From NBC News:

Anti-smoking advocates praised the moves, while questioning how easy it would be to enforce them. For one thing, vape products are sold in a variety of outlets, said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “It’s a loophole big enough for a truck to go through,” Myers told NBC News.

“(Gottlieb) doesn’t define age-restricted, in-person locations. For this to have any effect, that has got to be a very vigorous definition.”

Gottlieb told NBC that measures might include a curtained-off section where vapes are sold. Online sales will need age verification protocols, he said.

The FDA is also imposing new rules on online sales of e-cig products, requiring better age verification measures from companies (Right now, literally all a kid has to do is click on “Are you 21?” Seriously, that’s all they have to do.)

Maybe this ultimately accomplishes the same thing as a flat-out ban, but it remains to be seen. The FDA might have totally wimped out here.

Juul feels the heat

Juuls have quickly grabbed up 70 percent of the e-cigarette market and this company came to realize it was seriouly in the crosshairs because its products are very popular with teens.

Juul announced a number of steps this week to try and restrict sales to minors, I’m sure realizing that if it didn’t take actions, the FDA might do worse.

Juul said it is voluntarily restricting the sales of some fruity flavours only to businesses that invest in technology to verify the age of customers, such as scanning IDs.

Juul also completely shut down all of its social media accounts — Instagram, Facebook and others. Though, now that Juul has 70 percent of the market, some people would argue that this is too little, too late.

From a New York Times article

Caroline Renzulli, a spokeswoman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, called Juul’s announcement too little too late. “Juul’s social media marketing fueled its popularity with kids,” she said. “Now that it has captured 75 percent of the e-cigarette market, Juul no longer needs to do social media marketing because its young customers are doing it for them.”

Maura Healey, the attorney general for Massachusetts, echoed that sentiment. “Unfortunately, much of the damage has already been done,” she said. “Our investigation into Juul’s practices, including if it was knowingly selling and marketing its products to young people, will continue.”

Myers agrees:

“Juul is smart enough to try to use FDA actions to falsely create an impression of it as a caring, responsible company,” he said.

Juul now dominates the e-cigarette market with its small, sleek, pod-based product that delivers a far heftier dose of addictive nicotine than other vape devices.

“Having used social media to gain market dominance among young people, Juul can step back now because it no longer needs to pay for social media. Its young, addicted customers are doing it for them. It’s stunning to me,” Myers said.

“It is so completely out of the Big Tobacco playbook it is unbelievable,” he added.

Juul defends itself, using lame corporate-speak.

From an Associated Press article:

Its products are meant to help adult smokers quit regular cigarettes, CEO Kevin Burns said in a statement.

“We don’t want anyone who doesn’t smoke, or already use nicotine, to use Juul products,” Burns said. “We certainly don’t want youth using the product. It is bad for public health and it is bad for our mission.”

Menthol cigarettes, flavoured cigars BANNED

No if ands or but(t)s. Unlike some of the slightly milquetoast measures taken toward Juuls and e-cigs, menthol cigarettes will be simply BANNED. Sugary or candy-flavoured cigarettes were banned by the FDA a few years ago, but the agency allowed menthols to continue.

Well, no more, the FDA announced it will ban all sales of menthol cigarettes and sugary cigars like Swisher Sweets.

(As an aside, my parents smoked menthols, mostly Kool brand. Most menthol smokers are black.)

However, don’t expect menthols to disappear any time soon. The tobacco industry has vowed to fight the ban and it could be tied up in the courts for years.

From the NBC story:

Tobacco companies signaled they would fight efforts to ban menthol.

“We continue to believe that a total ban on menthol cigarettes or flavored cigars would be an extreme measure not supported by the science and evidence,” Altria, which makes a range of tobacco products, said in a statement. “We expect that establishing product standards on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars will be a multi-year, deliberative process, and we will be fully engaged throughout.”

FDA to ban flavoured e-cig products from minimarts

Well, this is progress, I wonder if it will have any effect.

The FDA announced that it will soon ban the sale of e-cig flavourings at minimarts. This is in response to the rapid rise of e-cig use by teenagers. The FDA warned a few weeks ago that it was cracking down on e-cigs because of the epidemic of teen e-cig use. So, this is apparently step one.

Also, cartridge-based e-cig products like Juuls will no longer be allowed to be sold at convenience stores. Sales will be limited to tobacco and vaping shops. Juuls are relatively news, they’ve only been around a year or two, but their use has exploded (not literally) among teens.

That seriously limits the venues that e-cig flavours and Juuls will be sold at — basically from millions of convenience stores around the country to about 10,000 estimated tobacco and vaping stores. It won’t stop kids from trying to buy them, but will make it harder. And tobacco and vaping stores are more regulated than convenience stores.

The FDA, and this is a big one I think, is also going to impose more rules and regulations on online sales of vaping products, requiring stricter standards for age verification. Today, any kid with their own debit card can just click on “yes, I’m 18” on most of these sites.

Will these be enough to stop the epidemic of kids using e-cigs? Only time will tell, but the FDA suggested this is just the beginning of the steps that it plans to crack down on the industry and its lax attitude toward teen vaping.

From an NBC News article on the FDA’s move:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday that adult smoking rates have dropped to their lowest level yet, at 14 percent. But the CDC found that 47.4 million U.S. adults , or 19 percent of the adult population, uses any tobacco product, including cigarettes, cigars, or e-cigarettes.

Public health experts have been complaining that the fruity, candy-like flavors found in e-cigarettes are targeted directly at children and teenagers, and rates of teen cigarette use have soared.

The FDA has also expressed concern about online sales to teens. In September, the FDA made an unannounced visit to Juul headquarters to look for evidence about the company’s marketing practices. In April, the agency launched what it called a “blitz” to stop retailers from selling vaping products to underage children. And it has warned several online sites about sales.

“We’re also going to restrict online sales only to sites that put in place specific age verification measures and limit access to kids that we are going to specify in guidance,” the official said.