The FDA has already banned candy- and fruit-flavored cigarettes. Flavored electronic cigarettes need to go as well.
Just as public-health officials were starting to celebrate their success at keeping cigarettes out of the hands of teens, a new threat to their health rushed in: electronic cigarettes. Even teens who never considered picking up a cigarette are using e-cigarettes, or vaping pens, because they wrongly believe they are not harmful. They are.
E-cigarettes arguably may be safer than traditional cigarettes — the scientific jury still is debating that point — but the battery-operated device that vaporizes a liquid nicotine solution is a dumb choice for youth. The nicotine vaporized in e-cigarettes is highly addictive, and research has connected vaping with heart, lung and brain problems. Solvents and other ingredients in the liquid are also toxic and may be carcinogenic. And more alarming, scientists are certain e-cigarette use leads to regular smoking for many teens: 12- to 17-year-olds who vape are twice as likely to become regular smokers within a year, according to a study in JAMA Pediatrics.
Teen use of e-cigarettes has reached “epidemic proportion,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced last week. The FDA is warning retailers and manufacturers if they can’t keep their products out of the hands of underage users, the agency may ban flavored products used in the trendy handheld devices.
The FDA has told five e-cigarette manufacturers to find ways to stop underage youth from using their products or the agency could require them to stop selling flavored products that appeal to children.
It’s obvious that flavored e-cigarettes are marketed directly at teens, with bright color packaging and flavors that mimic candy, fruit and alcoholic drinks.
Washington state officials can help by raising the age to 21 to buy these products — along with tobacco — or consider banning e-cigarettes outright as San Francisco has done.
Even though state and federal laws already ban vaping-product sales to anyone under age 18, young people have no problem buying e-cigarette brands such as the popular Juul. While only 6 percent of Washington 10th graders reported smoking cigarettes in the 2016 Health Youth Survey, 13 percent said they had used e-cigarettes or vape pens. E-cigarettes are also more popular than traditional cigarettes in 8th and 12th grade, the Washington student survey found.
Of 3.6 million U.S. middle- and high-school students who say they are tobacco users, 2.1 million use e-cigarettes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While cigarette smoking has decreased overall, teen smoking and use of e-cigarettes has not declined, according to Public Health Seattle & King County. The FDA has already banned candy- and fruit-flavored cigarettes. Flavored electronic cigarettes need to go as well.
The FDA must follow through with this promise. Too many children are at risk because of nicotine peddlers who care more about profits than children.