The Food and Drug Administration just revealed two major setbacks on the tobacco industry on Thursday. They said the administration will start the process to ban menthol cigarettes and significantly limit sales of flavored e-cigarettes to youths.
The FDA’s efforts have been the subject of debate for a long time and are driven by new figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It shows a 78 percent increase in vaping by high school students, with 3.6 million high school and middle school students now using e-cigarettes.
The FDA called the new numbers “astonishing,” and the commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, said he was stepping up his agency’s actions to curb youth vaping.
“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,” Gottlieb said.
He said he would speed up FDA action to limit sales of flavored electronic cigarette products to underage users, both in stores and online. He also said he was starting the process to ban menthol in cigarettes.
The FDA’s plans had been widely leaked last week but Gottlieb’s announcement went further than what had been expected. He said he would use the agency’s power to try to stop all in-person sales of flavored e-cigarettes in outlets that allow entry to people of all ages, and to restrict online sales.
The bureaucratic process for banning menthol and mint in all combustible cigarettes, and to ban flavors in cigars, is a longer-term process and one likely to be fought every step of the way by the tobacco industry. It has succeeded for years in protecting menthol products from regulation.
“More than half (54 percent) of youth smokers ages 12-17 use menthol cigarettes, compared to less than one-third of smokers ages 35 and older,” Gottlieb said. “We will advance a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would seek to ban menthol in combustible tobacco products, including cigarettes and cigars,” he added.
Anti-smoking advocates celebrated the moves, while questioning how easy it would be to enforce them. 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.”
Groups such as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said the FDA has moved far too slowly to limit teen vaping. “I don’t think there is any question that the last six-plus years the FDA has failed to take the action necessary to prevent this from happening,” Myers said.