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The Trump administration announced Wednesday that they will ban flavored e-cigs. Getty Images
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is finalizing plans to ban all flavored e-cigarettes from the market and requiring tobacco-flavored ones to go through federal review.
  • The news comes after multiple people have developed lung damage after vaping.
  • Those illnesses may be linked to e-cigarette cartridges with THC or nicotine, but federal officials are still investigating.

Federal officials said on Wednesday that they plan on banning all nontobacco flavors of e-cigarettes, including mint and menthol, from the market.

This comes amid an outbreak of a vaping-related illness that has sickened over 450 and killed at least six people. Officials are still investigating what may have caused this illness and whether it was from e-cigarette cartridges that contain THC or nicotine.

“We intend to clear the market of flavored e-cigarettes to reverse the deeply concerning epidemic of youth e-cigarette use that is impacting children, families, schools, and communities,” Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, told reporters Wednesday.

“We will not stand idly by as these products become an on-ramp to combustible cigarettes or nicotine addiction for a generation of youth,” he added.

Azar and Dr. Ned Sharpless, the FDA’s acting commissioner, appeared alongside President Trump in the Oval Office.

It could take several weeks for the FDA to work out the details of how it would remove nontobacco-flavored e-cigarettes from the market.

Robert McMillen, PhD, a professor of psychology and associate director of the Tobacco Control Unit at Mississippi State University, welcomed the FDA’s announcement.

“This action to ban flavored e-cigarettes has a huge potential for reducing the number of adolescents who start using these products,” said McMillen.

When e-cigarettes first came on the market, they were seen as a “safer” alternative to combustible cigarettes.

While some cigarette smokers have used vaping to quit smoking, these products have also hooked many in a new generation on nicotine.

Preliminary 2019 data from an annual survey of U.S. teens showed that more than one-quarter of high school students used e-cigarettes within the past 30 days. More than half of these students said they vaped fruit, menthol, or mint flavors.

A study this week by the American Heart Association also found many people were attracted to vaping because of the flavors.

The FDA said tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes would be allowed for now, but only if they were intended for adults as an alternative to combustible cigarettes.

“If we see a migration to tobacco-flavored products by kids, we will take additional steps to address youth use of these products,” said Sharpless to reporters.

The agency already had a rule in place since 2016 requiring most e-cigarette manufacturers to submit a premarket application to determine their product’s impact on public health. This was finalized earlier this year.

The policy that is currently being developed would allow the FDA to remove flavored e-cigarettes from the market.

Companies that want to continue to sell tobacco-flavored products would have until May 2020 to submit a premarket application, reports NPR.

This approach is an attempt to balance the needs of the e-cigarette industry with those of the consumers.

“We don’t necessarily want to diminish the market, but we want to protect public health, particularly the health of people who are using these kinds of products,” said Roger Clemens, DrPH, an adjunct professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Southern California.

Even before yesterday’s announcement, the FDA showed signs of taking a firmer stance on e-cigarettes. On Monday, the agency warned JUUL Labs for illegally marketing its products as safer than combustible cigarettes, including to youth.

But some state and local governments are not waiting for the FDA to act.

Earlier this week, Michigan became the first state to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. In June, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban the sale of all e-cigarettes.

Health officials don’t know whether flavored e-cigarettes were involved in any of the vaping-related illnesses or deaths.

However, the long-term risks of vaping are currently unknown. A growing number of studies also show that e-cigarette vapor has health risks, including damaging lung tissue and blood vessels.

Clemens pointed out that although some of the compounds used in e-cigarette liquids are generally recognized as safe by the FDA, that designation is for use in food products.

“These compounds may be safe when you take them in as a food, but when you take them into your lungs or your nasal passage, they can lead to serious adverse events,” he said.

McMillen said banning flavored e-cigarettes at the national level is a “great start,” but other steps are needed to reverse the rise in teen vaping.

This includes regulating e-cigarette advertising aimed at young people, along with the use of social media influencers.

Two other strategies that have worked with combustible cigarettes are taxing e-cigarettes and banning their use in indoor public places.

“The research on cigarette smoking is clear,” said McMillen. “Fewer teens start smoking if they live in a place where cigarettes cost more and/or there are smoke-free laws.”

Dave Dobbins, the chief operating officer of nonprofit Truth Initiative said the FDA also needs to address other sources of nicotine, including menthol cigarettes and candy-flavored cigars that are attractive to youth.

He also called on the FDA to finalize its plan to reduce nicotine levels in combustible tobacco so it’s at nonaddictive levels.

“It’s more urgent now than ever that the FDA moves forward… so we don’t create a generation of smokers out of the mistakes we’ve made so far,” said Dobbins.

Truth Initiative’s “This Is Quitting” program offers resources for youth and young adults to give up e-cigarettes. They can access the program by texting “DITCHJUUL” to 88709.