FDA should rethink approach on "e-cigarettes"

New federal policies can often cause more harm than good. Even the best intentions can result in negative, unforeseen consequences. Unfortunately, this is likely the case with the recently announced Food and Drug Administration (FDA) draft guidance that targets e-cigarettes.


Despite the decades-long decline in teenage smoking, there has been a new revival in teen smoking, largely due to vaporizers. The popularity of e-cigarettes has soared among teenagers in recent years, especially after e-cigarette companies like Juul introduced flavored e-cigarette pods.


The flavors of these pods range from the traditional “tobacco” and “menthol” to “chocolate” and “cherry,” which inevitably attracts younger buyers. Many people, especially parents, feel that these flavored e-cigarettes are specifically targeted to younger smokers, including underage teenagers, and are a primary cause of the uptick of underage smokers.


In response to this alarming trend, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a new proposal to crack down on e-cigarette sales. Their recommendation is that flavored e-cigarettes should only be sold in adult-only stores like vape shops and tobacco shops, or online.


While it is incredibly important for the FDA to review how e-cigarettes are sold – especially these flavored e-cigarettes – their proposal ignores the data and would not solve the problem. In fact, it could actually make it worse.


A recent study published by the American Journal of Health shows removing e-cigarettes from convenience stores won’t actually do much of anything to solve the problem. The study shows that almost 70 percent of teens got their e-cigarette device from somewhere other than a retail store or online. Even more shocking, of the 31.1 percent of teens who did buy their e-cigarette device from a retail store or online, only 7.8 percent purchased that device from a convenience or grocery store.


Vape and tobacco stores – the stores the government wants to continue to allow to sell flavored e-cigarettes – sold 20 times as many devices to minors as convenience stores, even though there are more than 15 times the number of convenience stores than vape and tobacco stores.


In other words, the FDA’s proposed guidance would only impact about 2.4 percent of teen e-cigarette smokers.


So why are e-cigarette companies like Juul promoting this proposal?


The answer is simple: it will likely increase their profit margins. For some time, Juul has wanted to move to an all online sales platform because they believe it will be more cost-effective for their company.


Even more concerning, these companies are pushing regulators to not include a signature upon delivery, bypassing any real means of verifying the age and identity of the person who is purchasing the e-cigarette – making it potentially even easier for your underage son or daughter to purchase Juul products.


I applaud the Trump Administration and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb for recognizing the e-cigarette epidemic as a serious problem that must be addressed. Cigarette smoking causes serious damage to teenagers and we must do what we can to stop it from happening.


But the answer is not passing yet another big government proposal that will have little to no impact on deterring teens from smoking. In fact, if companies like Juul get their way, this new FDA guidance could make it easier for your underage son or daughter to get their hands-on addictive e-cigarettes. Companies like Juul helped create this crisis. Let’s not reward them with protectionist policies.


A better use of the government’s time and money would be to allocate resources to enforce existing laws that forbid selling cigarette products to minors, focusing specifically on online sales and vape and tobacco shops where 86.8 percent of teens who purchased their device got theirs.