On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration announced a series of regulations meant to combat youth abuse of flavored e-cigarettes and tobacco products.
The New York Times reports that the FDA made another big announcement, too: it intends to ‘outlaw two traditional tobacco products that disproportionately harm African-Americans,’ menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.
The proposed ban, says the Times, would be the most aggressive action the FDA has taken against the tobacco industry in nearly a decade. It’d also represent a hard divergence from the Trump administration’s tendency toward regulatory negligence.
Nevertheless, the FDA’s proposal isn’t as harsh as initially promised. The agency had previously threatened to ban varieties of electronic cigarettes, in part to persuade Juul Labs to stop marketing tactics which might appeal to minors.
Instead of an all-out ban, the FDA’s instead allowed stores to continue selling Juul products and other brands of electronic cigarettes. But new regulations require businesses to keep vaping supplies in closed-off areas ‘inaccessible to teenagers.’
The decision came as a surprise to many, including congressmen and women. The Times recounts how some politicians ‘sent out news releases, praising the agency for a ban that did not materialize.’
Attorneys for the FDA said pursuing a ban would have lent to complications. Officials doubted whether they had the legal authority to completely curtail e-cigarette sales without ‘going through a long, complicated process’ that’d inevitably end up in court.
FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said the aim is to prevent nicotine addiction by curbing its emergence. An estimated 3.6 million minors use e-cigarettes, and Gottlieb says reducing that number is a priority.
“Almost all adult smokers started smoking when they were kids,” Dr. Gottlieb said in a statement. “Today, we significantly advance our efforts to combat youth access and appeal with proposals that firmly and directly address the core of the epidemic: flavors.”
Juul, writes the Times, “is by far the largest e-cigarette seller” in the nation. The company announced earlier in the week that’d suspend store sales of flavored pods and toughen its age-verification policy for online purchases. Juul says it won’t rescind its decisions even though the FDA hasn’t issued a blanket-ban on the sale of its flavored products.
Attorney Azim Chowdhury, who represents vape manufacturers and shops, said many of his clients continue to sell a variety of flavors without walling off displays. To ensure compliance, they simply refuse entry to customers who aren’t 18 or older.
“The F.D.A. seems to be recognizing the value that these products have for adults,” Chowdhury said. “My clients don’t want kids to use them either. But adults enjoy flavors, too.”
Regardless of the regulation’s wording, Gottlieb claims the effect is that of a ban.
“This policy will make sure the fruity flavors are no longer accessible to kids in retail sites, plain and simple,” Gottlieb said. “That’s where they’re getting access to the e-cigs and we intend to end those sales.”