The Food and Drug Administration released a plan this month to ban menthol and flavored e-cigarettes in an effort to save a generation of kids from nicotine addiction.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said as a physician and a cancer survivor, he’s seen first hand the devastation of smoking-related diseases.
“When I pledged last year to reduce addiction to nicotine, I was driven by the fact that, in the U.S., tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease,” Gottlieb said Thursday, Nov. 15 while announcing the initiative. “Combustible cigarettes cause the overwhelming majority of tobacco-related disease. When used as intended, they are responsible for the death of half of all long-term users.”
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, according to the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The total number of middle and high school students currently using e-cigarettes rose to 3.6 million — 1.5 million more than the previous year. More than two-thirds (67.8 percent) use flavored e-cigarettes.
“These increases must stop,” Gottlieb said. “And the bottom line is this: I will not allow a generation of children to become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes. We won’t let this pool of kids, a pool of future potential smokers, of future disease and death, to continue to build. We’ll take whatever action is necessary to stop these trends from continuing.”
Over the past few months, the FDA launched a multi-pronged Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan that escalated enforcement against retailers who illegally sell electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) products to minors, target e-liquid manufacturers whose products used misleading, youth-appealing imagery that mimicked juice boxes, lollipops and other foods.
They also worked with eBay to remove listings for these products on their websites.
“The changes I seek would protect kids by having all flavored ENDS products (other than tobacco, mint and menthol flavors or non-flavored products) sold in age-restricted, in-person locations and, if sold online, under heightened practices for age verification,” Gottlieb said.
The commissioner continues that these changes will not include mint- and menthol-flavored ENDS, however, he is deeply concerned about the availability of menthol-flavored cigarettes.
“I believe these menthol-flavored products represent one of the most common and pernicious routes by which kids initiate on combustible cigarettes,” Gottlieb said. “Moreover, I believe that menthol products disproportionately and adversely affect underserved communities. And as a matter of public health, they exacerbate troubling disparities in health related to race and socioeconomic status that are a major concern of mine.”
Gottlieb expressed that although he’s not proposing revisions to the compliance policy for the mint and menthol flavors in e-cigarettes at this time, menthol in cigarettes has a major impact on public health, especially for African Americans. Data shows that seven out of 10 African-American youth smokers select menthol cigarettes.
The FDA proposed a Rule-making that would seek to ban menthol in combustible tobacco products, including cigarettes and cigars. This comes in addition to banning flavored cigars.
“The bottom line is that these efforts to address flavors and protect youth would dramatically impact the ability of American kids to access tobacco products that we know are both appealing and addicting,” Gottlieb said.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids applauded the FDA “for their leadership in advancing these life-saving proposals.”
“The proposals by the FDA today to prohibit menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars have enormous potential to drive down tobacco use and the death and disease it causes in the United States,” the campaign said in a statement. “If adopted, these two proposals will have a greater impact in reducing tobacco use by youth and the African-American community than any regulatory measure ever undertaken by the federal government.”