To make e-cigarettes less tempting to kids, the FDA banned the sale of flavored vaping oils Thursday, with enforcement starting in February.
Nicotine vaping products have been hailed by some as a way to “off-ramp” current smokers and minimize the harmful effects of cigarettes. Meanwhile, critics have pointed to the rising number of teens becoming new nicotine users who start with flavored vape products.
The FDA has had the authority over the e-cigarette market since Aug. 2016, but has deferred its enforcement authority until now.
To date, no such products have been authorized by the FDA — meaning that all vaping products currently on the market in the U.S. are considered illegally marketed and are subject to enforcement, at any time, at the FDA’s discretion, according to the agency.
The new enforcement program will target products that use mint or fruit flavors or target children with their marketing. It will not affect menthol- or tobacco-flavored products.
“We believe this policy balances the urgency with which we must address the public health threat of youth use of e-cigarette products with the potential role that e-cigarettes may play in helping adult smokers transition completely away from combustible tobacco to a potentially less risky form of nicotine delivery,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D.
Federal surveys have found that an estimated 5 million U.S. middle and high school students are vaping, and that young vape users favor cartridge-based e-cigarettes with sweet flavors.
How Safe Are Vaping Products?
It is not known how safe or how unsafe these products are, according to Medicinenet author Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD.
September of 2019 saw a rash of nearly 500 cases of respiratory illness linked to vaping throughout the US, according to the CDC, which reports symptoms like cough, chest pain, nausea, shortness of breath, vomiting or diarrhea. As of September, six had died of “vaping lung disease,” sometimes abbreviated as “EVALI.”
According to Dr. Davis, nicotine can cause side effects at both low and high doses.
“Low doses may cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and eye irritation,” Dr. Davis said. “High doses of nicotine may cause tachycardia, high blood pressure, seizures, coma, and death. Moreover, the FDA reported detecting ethylene glycol in some of the e-cigarettes and cancer-causing substances called nitrosamines in others.”
Dr. Davis also points out that flavors like bubble gum and vanilla might addict young people to nicotine, which may eventually cause them to smoke cigarettes.
Do e-cigarettes help some smokers quit? If so, they are not currently recommended as anti-smoking devices by the FDA. Indeed, the vaping manufacturer Juul has been warned by the FDA that they cannot claim their cartridges are safer than smoking.
Dr. Davis notes that in one study, vaping was found to be no more effective at helping smokers quit than the nicotine patch.