By the editorial board of the Herald
For several years, youth health advocates have been frustrated by slow federal and state oversight and regulation of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products as they struggle to keep up with innovation. “catch me if you can” from the manufacturers of vaping products. , amid an epidemic rise in tobacco use among middle and high school-aged youth.
Organizations such as Truth Initiative and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids have compared it to a vaping game. As regulators would block a path to distributing e-cigarettes and vapes to underage users, manufacturers would find a loophole to exploit.
This game continues thanks to an industry that insists that it simply offers adults an alternative to quitting smoking, while at the same time it has been busy developing new packaging, colors, flavors, formulations and social media marketing to sell an addictive and harmful chemical – nicotine – to children.
In short, here’s the problem with nicotine use by children and young adults, according to the Washington State Department of Health and the United States Food and Drug Administration:
Youth and young adults under 18 are more likely to start smoking than adults. and almost 9 in 10 adults who smoke started smoking before the age of 18;
An estimated 104,000 young people in the state alive today will die prematurely from smoking; and
The increase in vaping product use among young people is alarming, as nicotine can harm brain development and have lasting effects, including decreased impulse control and mood disorders, and can develop a hard-to-break addiction to nicotine and tobacco products.
However, even as the game continues, state and federal authorities have taken a few good beatings recently.
The first good shot: Last week, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced a $22.5 million settlement with Juul Labs – until recently the market leader in product sales e-cigarette – to end the 2020 state consumer protection lawsuit that claimed Juul targeted minors. consumers and consumers in general deceived about the addictive nature of its products.
By agreeing to the settlement, Juul admits no wrongdoing, the bitter aftertaste typical of such agreements to end lawsuits. But in addition to the $22.5 million payment to the state, the e-cigarette maker must:
End all advertising that appeals to young people and stop much of its promotion on social media;
Accurately label products with their nicotine content and nicotine effects;
Follow state licensing requirements for retailers; and
Implement a “secret shopper” program, performing at least 25 monthly spot checks of Juul retailers in the state to confirm compliance with state law against sales to those under 21.
To be fair, Juul in recent years has been at least somewhat responsive to state and federal concerns; read: lawsuits and threats of lawsuits. In 2019, it announced it was suspending its print, broadcast and online advertising in the United States. That same year, it discontinued sales of its fruit and dessert flavors – including mango, crème brûlée and cucumber – which were seen as a major lure for teenage users.
Same Game, Different Mole: Yet even as Juul dodged those mallets, other vape pen makers popped up with their own fruit- and candy-flavored products and new ways to evade regulation, including the current market leader, Puff Bar. Initially, sales of Puff Bar initially circumvented FDA regulations because its Blueberry, Strawberry-Banana, and Mango e-cigarettes were disposable, until the FDA in July 2020 determined that Puff Bar and other companies’ products had not requested or received permission.
But again, Puff Bar dodged and reappeared, having found a loophole in synthetic nicotine, a lab product that isn’t derived from tobacco. According to a recent Associated Press report, the 2009 federal law that first gave the FDA oversight of cigarettes and other tobacco products only referred to tobacco-based nicotine. Puff Bar was back on the market with disposable flavored vapes and became the top pick among high schoolers, sending Juul to fourth place.
The synthetic source of the products also allowed manufacturers to hide behind a new marketing angle, claiming e-cigarettes to be “tobacco-free”, “clean” and “pure”, implying that synthetic nicotine was safer than tobacco products or even free. of nicotine.
The second good shot: But since last week, the “Puff Bar Rift” is also closed. As part of last month’s spending bill in Congress, he also passed legislation giving the FDA authority over all forms of nicotine, both tobacco-based and synthetic. The law came into effect last week.
Manufacturers of synthetic nicotine vapes now have approximately 60 days to file an application with the FDA for approval of their products; and any product without authorization must be removed from sale within 120 days. But as a Washington Post report in March pointed out, most manufacturers can ditch synthetic nicotine vape pens; they were developed in response to the loophole and the companies lack the scientific data likely needed for FDA approval.
This data may take some time to come in. Truth Initiative reports that while there has been extensive research on tobacco and tobacco-derived nicotine, more research is needed to learn more about the level of toxicity and effects of synthetic nicotine as well as methods. chemicals and compounds used to produce it.
The score: As the moles keep popping up and the regulators keep swinging, there are signs that young people and young adults can relate to the realities of vaping and nicotine. The FDA’s most recent findings on youth smoking show that more than 2.55 million US college students – 9.3% – used e-cigarettes and other forms of tobacco in 2021, up from about 4 .5 million in 2020.
Similar numbers were seen in Washington State’s Healthy Young People Survey for 2021. Among 12th graders in the state, 15% reported using e-cigarettes or other products. tobacco in 2021, compared to 30% in 2020.
The FDA survey also found that nearly two-thirds of college students who use e-cigarettes or other tobacco products said they were seriously thinking about quitting, and 60% said they had quit for at least a day or so. more over the past year.
Yet regulators and elected officials must continue to watch for new products and marketing methods that attempt to latch onto new consumers and retain the ones they have.
It’s a mole game that shouldn’t end anytime soon.