Last month the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the first time authorized the marketing of three e-cigarette products, marking the first set of “electronic nicotine delivery system” products to be authorized through its pathway for new tobacco devices. While this authorization may seem like cause for concern, in the long run it will help correct the enormous problem of youth vaping in Maryland and across the country.
The increase in vaping has been called an “e-cigarette epidemic among youth” by the U.S Surgeon General and “a rapidly-spreading and dangerous public health problem” by Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh. Minors continue to adopt vaping at alarming rates, with one in five high school students now saying they vape.
A study released in late September from the FDA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated over 80% of the U.S. middle and high school students that vape use flavored e-cigarettes, and e-cigarettes have been the most commonly used tobacco product among U.S. youth since 2014. The problem has been so pervasive in Maryland that earlier this year our state legislature introduced House Bill 134 to ban liquid additives intended for use in e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes.
Knowing all of that, it may seem counterintuitive that an FDA approval of e-cigarette products could have any positive effect on vaping among minors. It has already caused tremendous harm, and vaping will likely continue to disrupt the school environment and create strains on Maryland school systems. But with FDA approval comes FDA regulation and a real chance at holding e-cigarette companies accountable for the harm they have caused.
In the beginning of the vaping boom, companies were not regulated as they should have been, which led to extremely detrimental marketing practices. One of the leading companies that manufactures vaping devices, JUUL, at one point dominated the market by targeting young consumers with fruit and dessert flavors and advertising on educational sites for middle and high school students, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and Seventeen magazine.
As a result, youth became addicted and schools across Maryland were forced to direct valuable resources, such as time, money, and staff towards disciplinary action and vaping prevention efforts.
All available information points to the fact that vaping is here to stay, so it is vital that the e-cigarette industry is adequately regulated to minimize harm. The FDA is finally catching up to the industry and implementing regulations that can help prevent and reduce tobacco product initiation and use among youth. As part of the FDA’s regulation process, JUUL and other vaping manufacturers’ dangerous marketing tactics and targeting of minors will be put to an end.
Benefit for schools
Schools that have been forced onto the front lines of this epidemic also benefit from the FDA approval and regulation of e-cigarettes. Maryland school systems, such as Harford County Public Schools and Cecil County Public Schools, have joined the nationwide trend of filing suit against JUUL for its role in the vaping epidemic to combat its enormous drain on energy and resources.
JUUL now accounts for 40 percent of the e-cigarette market and is such a prolific name in the e-cigarette industry that “juuling” has become synonymous with vaping any kind of e-cigarette. The schools involved in the litigation are aiming to hold the company accountable and obtain damages for the costs incurred for vaping prevention efforts.
However, JUUL cannot be held accountable if they do not have a viable business. While JUUL’s FDA approval request is still pending, last month’s decision regarding e-cigarettes points to the likelihood it will be at least approved in part, and the multimillion-dollar company will continue to be a leading vaping manufacturer.
While it may appear to be a step in the wrong direction for public health, FDA oversight will only increase safety and curtail dangerous marketing efforts. Decreasing nicotine addiction among teenagers took decades of work and was a tremendous public health achievement. We cannot let vaping turn back the clock, and FDA approval and regulation of e-cigarettes will go a long way in reining in this industry that has been allowed to operate with impunity for far too long.
D. Bruce Poole is a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates and a partner at The Poole Law Group. Phillip Federico is a foundingand senior partner at Baltimore firm Schochor, Federico and Staton, P.A.