Vaping has become an “epidemic” among teens and must be stopped, the Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday.
In what it called the “largest coordinated enforcement effort in [its] history,” the FDA sent warning letters and levied fines against more than 1,300 retailers and five manufacturers it claimed violated existing law by selling and marketing e-cigarettes to minors.
The FDA said it wants the popular e-cigarette brand JUUL and other companies to get better at preventing kids from vaping, and might even require e-cigarette manufacturers to stop producing flavored vape juice.
“We see clear signs that youth use of electronic cigarettes has reached an epidemic proportion,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a press release. This despite survey data that suggests that teen nicotine use is at a historic low.
"JUUL Labs will work proactively with FDA in response to its request. We are committed to preventing underage use of our product, and we want to be part of the solution in keeping e-cigarettes out of the hands of young people," Juul told Motherboard in an email. "Our mission is to improve the lives of adult smokers by providing them with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes. Appropriate flavors play an important role in helping adult smokers switch. By working together, we believe we can help adult smokers while preventing access to minors, and we will continue to engage with the FDA to fulfill our mission."
As a former smoker who used e-cigarettes to quit, this is bullshit. I was a vaping early adopter and braved rumors of popcorn lung and exploding e-cigarette batteries to quit nicotine altogether. I had tried everything—cold turkey, nicotine patches, gum. Vaping was the only thing that worked.
JUUL caught the brunt of the FDA’s judicial assault and it’s easy to see why. More than any other brand, JUUL has become synonymous with teen nicotine use. Teens talk about JUUL on social media, feel it’s easier to hide from adults, and like the harsher hit JUUL’s salt-based nicotine provides. Earlier this year,, the FDA announced it would “examine the youth appeal of JUUL” and crack down on online retailers.
JUUL sells its pods in mango and cool mint flavors, which the FDA says is an invitation for kids to start smoking. It’s the same logic it used in 2006 to force RJ Reynolds, the manufacturer of Camel cigarettes, to stop selling a brand of flavored cigarettes.
The idea that only kids like flavored cigarettes is ridiculous. When I was a smoker I loved Camel’s flavored brand. When I quit, I craved sweets and the flavored e-cigarettes helped temper that craving without gaining a bunch of weight. I’m not alone. I love the flavored juices of e-cigarettes. I haven’t smoked a cigarette in five years and I owe that to vaping.
To be clear, the FDA has a responsibility to keep the public safe and stores shouldn’t sell any nicotine products to minors. The vaping market has been the regulatory wild west for years now and it was only a matter of time before something like this happened.
But when the FDA says it wants to “render cigarettes minimally or non-addictive and encourage the development of innovative tobacco products that could help currently addicted adult smokers switch to potentially less harmful forms of nicotine delivery,” it’s willfully ignoring that vaping helps a lot of people quit and that most studies conclude it’s much less harmful than normal cigarettes.
Update: This story has been updated with comment from Juul.