FDA goes to war against teenagers’ ‘epidemic’ use of electronic cigarettes, says another generation is at risk of nicotine addiction

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is launching a new anti-vaping campaign aimed at teens.

The campaign, “The Real Cost,” will target nearly 10.7 million students through hard-hitting advertising on digital and social media sites that are popular among teens, like You Tube and Instagram, and by placing ads at least 10,000 high-school bathrooms.

The ads will educate teens on the risk of nicotine addiction and the dangerous chemicals in the products; an estimated 80 percent of them don’t see a great risk of harm from regular use of e-cigs, according to the latest “Monitoring the Future” survey, which tracks substance use by students in 12th, 10th and 8th grades.

In 2017, more than 2 million youth were current users of e-cigarettes. Kentucky’s high-school students use traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes at about the same rate, 14 percent, according to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. However, the same report shows that more high school students have ever tried e-cigs, compared to ever trying the traditional ones: 45 percent and 40.5 percent, respectively.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb called teens’ use of e-cigs “epidemic” and said it “jeopardizes the extraordinary public health gains we’ve made in reducing smoking rates in the nation.”

“We have data to show that use of e-cigarettes, while potentially posing much less harm than combusting tobacco, is not benign. It causes its own health effects. And nicotine use by kids is dangerous. It causes direct effects on their health and their brains,” Gottlieb said in a written statement. “Not to mention the risk of lifelong addiction. There’s a large pool of nicotine users that’s being created among kids by these products. And some portion of them are at risk of transitioning to and risking addiction to cigarettes.”

Gottlieb stressed that while the FDA recognizes e-cigarettes can play a role in helping adults quit smoking, there is no reason for teens to use them.

“Even as we consider the potential benefits of innovative tobacco products and the role that some such products may play in reducing harm to current adult smokers, the FDA won’t tolerate a whole generation of young people becoming addicted to nicotine as a tradeoff for enabling adults to have unfettered access to these same products,” he said.

The nearly $60 million campaign efforts will be funded by user fees collected from the tobacco industry, not by taxpayer dollars, says the news release.

The campaign comes just days after Gottlieb announced a major crackdown on e-cig sales to minors, including the issuance of more than 1,300 warning letters and civil money-penalty complaints to retailers who illegally sold e-cig products to minors; a request to the five top-selling e-cig companies (Juul, Vuse, MarkTen, blu e-cigarettes and Logic) to submit plans describing how they will address the widespread youth use of their products; and warning companies that have misleading labels and ads that resemble kid-friendly foods such as juice boxes, candy and cookies, that they must stop.

“Making sure e-cigs aren’t being marketed to, sold to, or used by kids is a core priority and the guiding principle behind our efforts,” Gottlieb said.

A federal judge in Boston has said these efforts haven’t moved fast enough and has ordered the FDA to quickly finish writing a rule requiring graphic warnings on cigarette packages and advertisements, The Associated Press reports. On Sept. 5, Judge Indira Talwani gave the FDA until later this month to provide an expedited schedule for finalizing the graphic warnings rule.

An FDA spokesman told AP that the agency continues “to move forward on the work to support a new rulemaking,” is analyzing the judge’s decision, and will comply.