The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is continuing to voice its concern on the alarming rise in e-cigarette use among teens.
Over the weekend, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb -- who has repeatedly called the surge in teen vaping “an epidemic” -- said that all e-cigarette makers face an “existential threat” if they fail to take sufficient measures to combat youth vaping.
“I still believe e-cigs offer an opportunity for currently addicted adult smokers to transition off cigarettes and onto products that may not have the same level of risks. But if youth use continues to rise, the entire category faces an existential threat,” Gottlieb tweeted on Saturday.
“I believe if every currently addicted adult smoker switched completely to e-cigs it would provide a tremendous public health gain. But that opportunity is in significant risk if kids use continues to rise,” he said.
Need for intervention by manufacturers
During a Friday public hearing on “Eliminating Youth Use of Electronic Cigarette and Other Tobacco Product Use,” Gottlieb noted that the number of teens using e-cigarettes (especially flavored e-cigarettes) has risen dramatically since 2017.
From 2017 to 2018, there was a 78 percent increase in current e-cigarette use among high school students and a 48 percent increase among middle school students, according to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey.
Gottlieb emphasized that there’s a need for makers of e-cigarette products to take measures to mitigate the issue. If companies don’t stop marketing vaping products to youth, Gottlieb said the products could end up being removed from store shelves altogether.
“[I]f the epidemic continues to mount, I’m sure that the debate will change to one of whether these products should continue to be marketed at all without authorized pre-market tobacco applications,” Gottlieb said.
“It could be ‘game over’ for some these products until they can successfully traverse the regulatory process. I think the stakes are that high. And would be a blow for all of the currently addicted adult smokers who, I believe, could potentially benefit from these products,” he said.
The FDA has previously singled out Juul for its significant role in the teen vaping epidemic, since underage users tend to gravitate toward flavored products such as those marketed by Juul. However, the company has maintained that it’s doing everything in its power to curb youth use of e-cigarettes.
“Underage use of JUUL and any other vaping products is completely unacceptable to us and is directly opposed to our mission of eliminating cigarettes by offering existing adult smokers a true alternative to combustible cigarettes," said Ted Kwong, a Juul Labs spokesperson.
"We are moving full steam ahead on implementing our action plan to limit youth usage, and this is unchanged since we announced our plan in November," he added. "We will be a transparent, engaged, and committed partner with FDA, state Attorneys General, local municipalities, and community organizations in the effort to combat underage use.”
Juul announced in November that it planned to pull some of its flavored pods from retail stores, shutter several of its social media accounts, and introduce stricter age-verification tools on its website as part of its effort to reduce youth use of its products.