Commentary

FDA Wants To Ban Menthol Cigarettes, Restrict Sales Of E-Cigs

The Food and Drug Administration yesterday proposed restricting the sales of flavored e-cigarettes and banning menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars outright in what is considered its toughest actions against the tobacco industry in years.

The FDA’s long, fact-filled news release leads with several highly unusual and “deeply personal” paragraphs in which FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb states that he is pursuing the actions as a physician who “saw first-hand the devastation that smoking-related diseases had wrought on the lives of patients and their families,” as well as being a cancer survivor himself and the father of three young children.

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“The data show that kids using e-cigarettes are going to be more likely to try combustible cigarettes later,” he states. “Almost all adult smokers started smoking when they were kids. Nearly 90% started smoking before the age of 18, and 95% by age 21.”

“The effort to cut off access to flavored e-cigarettes stopped short of a ban that the FDA had threatened in recent months as it sought to persuade e-cigarette makers like Juul Labs to drop marketing strategies that might appeal to minors. The agency said it would allow stores to continue selling such flavored products, but only from closed-off areas that would be inaccessible to teenagers,” Sheila Kaplan and Jan Hoffman write for the New York Times.

“The FDA’s plans had been widely leaked last week but Gottlieb’s announcement has changed somewhat since then,” Maggie Fox points out for NBC News. “‘We're not telling the retail stores you can’t sell them,’ Gottlieb said. ‘If the establishments want to continue to sell these fruity flavored products, they're going to have to put into place measures that will make sure they are not going to get into the hands of kids,’ Gottlieb told NBC News,” she continues.

“Getting out ahead of the FDA announcement, Juul on Tuesday stopped filling store orders for mango, fruit, creme and cucumber pods and will resume sales only to retailers that scan IDs and take other steps to verify a buyer is at least 21. The company said Juul will continue to sell menthol and mint at stores, and sell all flavors through its website,” the Associated Press’ Mike Stobbe reports.

“Health advocates generally applauded the e-cigarette plans, but some said they did not go far enough. Some called for a complete ban of flavorings, for example, and a more aggressive regulation of e-cigarettes that have come on the market in the last two years,” Stobbe continues. “The proposed sales restrictions on e-cigarettes ‘are a step forward, but by themselves are not enough to stem the youth e-cigarette epidemic,’ said Robin Koval, chief executive of the Truth Initiative, an advocacy group that runs anti-tobacco ads.”

Indeed, “while cigarette smoking has hit a record low in the United States, vaping has been skyrocketing. That trend has raised concerns that a new generation of young people will become addicted to nicotine. Gottlieb says the moves were prompted by new data showing a 78% increase in e-cigarette use among high school students and a 48% increase among middle school students, from 2017 to 2018,” NPR’s Rob Stein reports.

“Among high school students, current e-cigarette use increased from 1.5% in 2011 to 20.8% in 2018,” according to a new study published by the Centers for Disease Control titled Notes from the Field: Use of Electronic Cigarettes and Any Tobacco Product Among Middle and High School Students -- United States, 2011–2018. It also reports a 78% increase in vaping by high school students, with 3.6 million high school and middle school students using e-cigarettes.

“These data shock my conscience," Gottlieb says.

“Let’s not overreact about e-cigarettes,” writes Tom Miller, a Democrat who is attorney general of Iowa, in an op-ed for the Washington Post. “To overreact and limit access to harm-reducing tools means that adults die. Of course, we should enact measures such as age verification and implement rules to prevent vape companies from marketing to youths in any meaningful way.” But, he continues, “any significant restriction of flavors should be justified by a strictly science-based analysis of the harms and benefits.”

Jeff Stier, a senior fellow at the Consumer Choice Center, calls the proposed menthol ban “naive” in an op-ed for USA Today. Stier, who is billed as “a voice for consumers who believe paternalists don’t have a monopoly on public health,” says an outright ban will not only be “ineffective” but also will lead to “countless unintended consequences, including increased youth smoking, especially in minority communities.”

Stier writes: “Kids could easily buy loose cigarettes stored in sealed baggies with unwrapped menthol cough drops.” 

Tobacco stocks “have been getting slammed since last Friday amid speculation that the FDA was considering these measures,” Markets Insider reports. On the other hand, Mondelez International, whose Cadbury-Adams Division makes Hall’s  Mentho-Lyptus Triple Soothing Action cough drops, was up .41% yesterday.

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