If you’re an e-cigarette user, you may have heard grumbles throughout summer 2018 about the growing potential of a flavored nicotine ban by the Food and Drug Administration. The ban, the FDA claims, is an effort to halt the “epidemic” growth of e-cigarette use among teens, who are attracted to e-cigarette flavor offerings like cucumber, mango, and mint.
Using nicotine, studies show, can have a detrimental effect on brain development in young people, so, in their efforts to protect America’s youth, the FDA has considered this potentially industry-changing action.
The issue is, of course, that despite their popularity with the young crowd, companies like Juul exist to help adults make the switch from combustible cigarettes to e-cigarettes, aiding them in their overall efforts to quit smoking.
On September 12th, 2018, the FDA singled out five e-cigarette manufacturers and products - Juul, MarkTen, blu, Vuse, and Logic - and demanded they address youth use of their product within 60 days, or the FDA would require them to stop selling flavored nicotine pods altogether. So, where did this come from, and what does it mean for you?
How did this get started?
With the availability of devices like Juul and blu, which are discreet, convenient, and feature fruity or appealing flavors, teens are becoming heavy users. Recent studies show a 900% increase in teen e-cigarette use from 2011-2015, and the number has only grown since then.
Sixty-three percent of teens surveyed were unaware that their e-cigarette contained nicotine - the vast majority assumed the pods were composed of only flavorings. Because trends like this are passed quickly from friend to friend, vaping and e-cigarette use has exploded among younger crowds, and it has parents, teachers, and the FDA on edge.
Lastly, e-cigarettes like Juul look like USB drives, and many parents are unaware that their kids use these seemingly innocuous devices for other purposes. Think back to when you were a teen: it’s exciting to get away with
How did the FDA respond?
They initiated a program titled the Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan, fining 131 major retailers for selling e-cigarettes to minors, closing loopholes for online sales to minors, and examining the youth appeal of e-cigarettes.
Despite all of that, the number of young people using e-cigarettes and vaping devices hasn’t tipped downward. If anything, it’s grown.
In the face of this, the FDA is taking an aggressive, unprecedented stance. Over the next sixty days, the administration will actively investigate the marketing and sales practices of manufacturers of Juul, blu, MarkTen, Vuse, and Logic. The administration expects these manufacturers to submit a plan for reducing youth use of their product within 60 days or face consequences like ceasing distribution to retailers that sell to underage kids, halting all sales of flavored nicotine products, or reworking their marketing and sales practices.
Companies like Juul saw this coming
Back in June, Juul committed to removing models from its Instagram presence, instead promoting stories of adults using the product to switch from combustible cigarettes to e-cigarettes. The hope was, of course, to make the product seem less appealing to young people and to reinforce Juul’s commitment to helping adults stop smoking.
The “our responsibility” page of their website is very explicit in distancing itself from youth use, stating: “We want to be part of the solution to end combustible smoking, not part of a problem to attract youth…”
Despite this commitment, the fact remains: young people like vaping and e-cigarettes. And it seems that Juul’s efforts, laudable though they are, aren’t really curbing youth use. Juul has been accused of luring teens to their product in order to get “customers for life” - is their image problem going to be their downfall?
If you’re an adult user of products like Juul, blu, or MarkTen, you might be upset at the prospect of losing access to your favorite pod flavors in the wake of youth use of vaping devices. After all, with all of the companies out there manufacturing knock-off, unregulated “Juul-compatible” flavored pods, will punishing Juul actually solve the problem? Juul has come out publicly warning of the emergence of a “gray market” for flavored pods that will continue to grow. These unregulated pods could contain harmful chemicals, and they are not subject to the same safety standards as those created by companies like Juul, the company says.
Whatever the case, it’s a divisive issue. If you’d like to learn more, read the FDA announcement regarding the crackdown, and make sure to reach out to Juul or your e-cigarette manufacturer directly with concerns. If Juul and other manufacturers can sufficiently demonstrate they are taking meaningful steps to combat underage use in the next 60 days, the future of flavored pods looks bright. If not, well… time will tell.