The coronavirus is dominating headlines, but there’s another public health epidemic that is rightly getting major attention. The underage vaping epidemic, which has impacted one in ten middle schoolers and one in four high schoolers, took center stage at a House hearing this week, where the largest e-cigarette company CEOs were hauled in front of Congress to be questioned about their role in the teen vaping epidemic.
But the hearing isn’t the only movement on vaping this week. On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) guidance on flavored vaping products went into full effect.
Under President Trump’s leadership, the FDA has banned a number of fruit- and mint-flavored vaping products, which are popular among 70 percent of high school users. These flavored vaping products are often colorfully packaged and marketed with kidlike names, such as “Candy King” and “Fruity Pebbles,” to make the products appear harmless. This undeniably lures in young people who might think vaping is safe.
In addition, the FDA’s new guidance cracks down on e-cigarette companies that are not making a concerted effort to ensure that their products don’t end up in the hand of minors, like by having poor age verification mechanisms. This is a critical change, as teens have reported that online retailers are their most common retail source for e-cigarette products, likely due to poor age verification.
During this week’s congressional hearing, e-cigarette companies were also grilled on their marketing practices, as members of Congress accused the companies of specifically trying to lure teens into using their products.
Thankfully, the FDA’s new guidance on vaping products also addresses this concern, indicating that the FDA will prioritize enforcement measures on any vaping products that are marketed toward minors. This includes products that are marketed using animated characters or are promoted as easy to conceal from teachers and parents.
The FDA and the Trump administration deserve praise for taking critical action to address the teen vaping epidemic, and for promoting solutions that will effectively reverse this terrible trend.
But, the crackdown on flavored vaping products is not the only way that the Trump Administration has taken important steps to combat teens’ e-cigarette use.
In November, President Trump promised to raise the age limit for vaping to 21. He kept that promise and signed Tobacco 21 into law on December 20th, raising the federal age to purchase all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and other vaping products, to 21.
Studies have shown—and experts agree—that raising the age limit to 21 will reduce youth tobacco use. A recent study found that Lowell, a town in Massachusetts, was able to decrease its youth smoking rate after it restricted the sale of flavored products to tobacco stores where buyers have to be 21 years old or older to enter; meanwhile, Malden, a nearby town that didn’t have a flavor ban, had its youth smoking rate increase.
Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, who studied vaping use among Los Angeles high schoolers, said that “regulations that reduce youth exposure to flavored e-cigarettes may aid in preventing young people who try e-cigarettes from becoming frequent and persistent users.”
While we can expect more Congressional hearings on the vaping epidemic in the coming months, the White House and FDA have taken important steps towards putting an end to a nationwide epidemic that has harmed millions of American teens. With proper enforcement, the U.S. can see a major decline in vaping rates among young people, keeping the future of America’s lives—and lungs—intact.