Did you know that it’s still a bit like the wild, wild west when it comes to regulating e-cigarettes and other vaping products? Aside from having to be 18 to purchase or use them, there’s basically nothing in place to regulate the products themselves.
In fact, last year, e-cigarette companies were given an extension on a deadline to apply for FDA clearance. The extension pushed the deadline to August of 2022, giving these companies more time to keep their products on the market before they are reviewed by the federal agency.
As troublesome as the lack of regulation may be, it’s especially terrifying given that teens are turning to vaping and e-cigarettes in growing numbers. In Texas, 25% of middle and high school students say they’ve tried some sort of electronic vapor product, even though no long-term studies or scientific research supports the common misperception that they are better for you than smoking traditional cigarettes.
Part of the problem is that once young people start using electronic devices, use of traditional cigarettes could come next – teen e-cigarette users are 23 percent more likely to start smoking traditional cigarettes within six months of use than teens who don’t use e-cigarettes. In fact, one pediatric pulmonologist says electronic smoking devices have become “the new way to get kids addicted to nicotine.”
Indeed, addiction is occurring, thanks in part to sleek, small products like Juul e-cigarettes making their way into the hands (and classrooms) of kids. In addition to being discreet enough for kids to sneak into school, the appeal – and addictive nature – of Juuls may be partly due to the fact that they “provide a nicotine hit that’s much more like smoking a cigarette than other e-cigs.”
It’s not just the popularity of Juuls that we should be concerned about though. The CDC has also found that e-cigarette ads target millions of kids using some of the same tactics that the tobacco industry used years ago. Thanks to TV, movies, Internet, magazines, retail stores, sports and music marketing, and celebrity endorsements, young people are seeing e-cigarette ads on a daily basis. This type of exposure – along with the creation of flavored products that are appealing to youth – may also have something to do with the growing number of young e-cigarette users.
Given that a tobacco company once referred to young adult smokers as “replacement smokers,” the current attempt to entice youth with flavored products and “fun” marketing should come as no surprise. The tobacco industry – which has taken over the e-cigarette industry – knows that it needs young people to start smoking so their business doesn’t eventually go away.
There does seem to be some good news: since the FDA extended the deadline for e-cigarette companies to receive agency clearance, the FDA also has begun to crack down on the industry’s intentional and harmful targeting to children. The agency sent warning letters in May of 2018 to companies that “misleadingly labeled or advertised nicotine-containing e-liquids as kid friendly food products such as juice boxes, candies, and cookies.” (How can they not be marketing to youth when products resemble junk food products and have names like “Smurf Sauce” and “V’Nilla Cookies & Milk”?) FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that these companies have “a responsibility to ensure they aren’t putting children in harm’s way or enticing youth use.”
While the marketing crackdown is a great step forward, there’s still more to do while we wait for the FDA to review these products in 2022. Ninety percent of adult smokers start smoking in their teens or earlier – prevention efforts are critical now.
It’s important for parents and kids to talk about the dangers of vaping and e-cigarette use (from addiction and harmful toxins in e-liquids to future risk of cancer and heart and lung disease) – not to mention the unfortunate reality that youth are being directly and deliberately targeted through advertising.
There’s still so much work to be done to keep our kids safe from these harmful products, but thankfully, there are opportunities for adults and youth alike to get engaged in community prevention efforts.
Consider getting involved in Tobacco 21 or comprehensive smoke-free initiatives and join your local coalitions to become more involved in tobacco prevention efforts in your communities. Want more information on tobacco-related issues? Contact Coalition Specialist Steve Ross at SRoss@TexansStandingTall.org or 512.442.7501.