When public health officials began to encourage adult smokers to switch to less risky products such as e-cigarettes, which deliver nicotine in a cloud of vapor, they had no idea that they would be facilitating a new problem. As smokers became attracted to the idea and stopped buying traditional cigarettes, tobacco companies got involved in vaping products.
The problem is that teens like vaping products too, especially the flavored ones. Last year’s national survey revealed that 21 percent of U.S. high-school students and 5 percent of middle-school students were vaping. Vaping rose almost 78 percent among high-school students between 2017 and 2018 and 48 percent among middle-school students. Some of these teens, who have never smoked, are having health issues.
As U.S. officials investigate more than 450 potential cases of pulmonary illness related to vaping products, President Donald Trump is encouraging the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to take mint, menthol and fruity flavors of e-cigarettes off the market, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The President, who cited rising concerns about health hazards and growing usage by teenagers of the trendy alternative to traditional cigarettes, proposed banning popular fruity flavors, in addition to menthol and mint e-cigarettes from stores and online sellers, making only tobacco-flavored products available. The proposal cracks down on a burgeoning market that had $7 billion in sales in 2018 and has appealed to tobacco giants such as Marlboro maker Altria Group Inc. and hundreds of smaller players.
Doctors believe that some kind of chemical exposure related to vaping or e-cigarette use might cause inflammation or injury in the lungs. Although scientists have not pinpointed a specific cause of the recent lung illnesses, initial evidence shows that the majority of the cases relate not to standard e-cigarettes, but to “those using ingredients like THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana,” The Wall Street Journal reported. Health officials have told consumers not to tamper with the e-cigarettes or buy them off the street.
Thus far, six deaths in the U.S. have been associated with the illness. The most recent death was a Kansas resident over the age of 50, proving that the problem affects all ages but not elucidating its cause.
Still, public health officials believe that sweet and fruity flavors excite young people and contribute to a growing market for teen vaping. Mint and mango flavored e-cigarettes account for more than 60 percent of sales for Juul, the U.S. market leader, according to people familiar with the matter. Other vaping companies advertise flavors such as Watermelon Twist and BlueRazz.
According to Alex Azar, the secretary for Health and Human Services, the Trump administration’s proposed ban on mint and menthol flavored e-cigarettes was triggered by 2019 government survey data and reported illnesses. He said the administration would issue final guidance on the new policy, after which all e-cigarettes but tobacco-flavored products would have to be taken off the market in 30 days.
Companies that make tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes can sell products but must apply by May 2020 for an FDA review. Manufacturers of other e-cigarette flavors can apply for FDA authorization, but they cannot sell them before the review.
Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless summarized, “The tremendous progress we’ve made in reducing youth tobacco use in the U.S. is jeopardized by this onslaught of e-cigarette use.”