The Food and Drug Administration enforced a partial ban of e-cigarette flavored juices Thursday, receiving support from Iredell-Statesville Schools and causing concern of more stringent bans in the future among local vape-shop owners.
The ban comes in tandem with legislation signed recently by President Donald Trump that raises the minimum age for purchase of tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Boen Nutting, director of communications and development at Iredell-Statesville Schools, said the increase of the minimum age to purchase tobacco was a welcome change.
“The Iredell-Statesville Schools has updated their policy as it relates to vaping,” Nutting said. “We have a discipline matrix in place to not only address the use of vapes at school, but also the sale of vaping products to other students. We are confident that a change in the age to purchase vape products will aid us in addressing this issue in our schools.”
The ban is set to go in effect 30 days after it is filed with the Federal Register, which is expected to be sometime next week, a press release from the FDA indicated.
The partial ban prohibits cartridge-based vaporizers, such as Juul, from being sold with any flavored juice except for tobacco and menthol. Tank-based vaporizers, which the FDA said are not nearly as popular with teenagers, will still be allowed to contain flavored juices.
Both the partial ban and the raise in minimum age for tobacco purchases are responses to the stark increase of teenage usage of e-cigarettes nationwide.
Josh Frazier, owner of Vape House CBD in Statesville, said he agreed that something should be done to limit teenage vaping.
“As long as it’s harder for the high schoolers to get their hands on it, that’s a good thing,” he said.
But Frazier also said he was concerned that further actions against the vaping industry could drive adult nicotine users to purchase e-cigarette juice off the street, a market that is unregulated and prone to carrying illicit THC cartridges.
The FDA warned nicotine users in October to not use THC vaping products as a majority of the samples, tested in the investigation into the widespread outbreak of a lung illness associated with e-cigarettes, contained THC.
The CDC reported in December that there were 2,561 cases of the lung illness across all 50 states with 55 confirmed deaths in 27 states and the District of Columbia.
“They don’t know where to find the products, and it’s gonna get worse,” Frazier said in reference to stricter e-cigarette bans. “It’s gonna get worse before it gets better.”
Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a string of tweets in September that the teenage vaping epidemic should be not be conflated with the sudden outbreak of vaping illnesses.
“We need to distinguish between two crises: youth use of legally sold and legitimate brands of e-cigs like Juul and the tragic lung injuries,” Gottlieb said. “If we ban legal e-cigs, and it’s the counterfeit and illegal vapes causing the lung injuries, we must be prepared to give FDA significant new resources to police the market for illegal vapes. Otherwise, steps we take to crack down on legal vapes could exacerbate the lung injuries.”
In a study cited by the FDA in its partial ban announcement, more than 5 million U.S. high school and middle school students were reported to be current e-cigarette users. The study said 1.6 million used the product for 20 days out of a 30-day period and nearly one million used the product daily.
The study indicated that those numbers encompass 27.8 percent of high school and middle school students, up from 20.8 percent in 2018.
Cartridge-based brands were what they preferred, the study stated.
In another study, cited by the FDA, e-cigarette flavors such as fruit and mint are much preferred by teenagers than menthol or tobacco.
“The United States has never seen an epidemic of substance use arise as quickly as our current epidemic of youth use of e-cigarettes,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a news release. “By prioritizing enforcement against the products that are most widely used by children, our action today seeks to strike the right public health balance by maintaining e-cigarettes as a potential off-ramp for adults using combustible tobacco while ensuring these products don’t provide an on-ramp to nicotine addiction for our youth.”
A surgeon general’s advisory in 2018 said that nicotine exposure in adolescence can harm the developing brain which does not fully develop until around age 25.
“Nicotine exposure during adolescence can impact learning, memory, and attention,” it stated in the advisory. “Using nicotine in adolescence can also increase risk for future addiction to other drugs.”
Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said in testimony to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee in September that the progress made over the past generation to eliminate nicotine usage is in jeopardy. He said that more stringent regulations to curb access to e-cigarettes must be enforced if nicotine usage is to be eliminated.
“E-cigarettes are wildly efficient nicotine delivery systems designed to expose and addict youth to nicotine,” Norman said. “We must prevent addiction to nicotine.”