The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officially launched its 90-day formal review of tobacco flavorings on Tuesday, landing yet another potentially fatal blow to the American vaping industry. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and other agencies officials have been hinting for months that a possible vaping ban is not out of the question, sometimes taking to Twitter to issue thinly veiled warnings.
To be clear, the press release only states that the FDA is currently only exploring their options. No new regulations have been released – yet. For the next three-months, agency officials will only be seeking “public input” regarding the future role of flavored tobacco products in the United States.
The main point of contention is the often-debated ideology that flavored tobacco products are somehow more “kid-appealing” which may lead to another generation of smokers. Since the FDA deeming regulations of 2015 now reclassify e-cigarettes and e-liquids as tobacco products, the American vaping industry will also be negatively affected along with Big Tobacco should an FDA flavor ban take effect. While all tobacco flavors are currently on the table, the FDA seems to be taking direct aim at menthol brands first.
FDA targets menthol tobacco flavors specifically
Menthol cigarettes have been controversial for decades, well before the recent surge in popularity of vaping in the past five years. Anti-tobacco activists have been wanting the FDA to ban menthols because they are considered a smoother, less harsh form of traditional tobacco-only flavors. And much like the American vaping industry in recent years, Big Tobacco manufacturers of menthol cigarettes have also been regularly accused of intentionally marketing their products to children.
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All hope is not lost though. Seven paragraphs into the lengthy press release, Gottlieb offers vapers a possible out-clause.
“But when it comes to flavors in non-combustible products like electronic nicotine delivery systems or e-cigarettes we recognize the issue involves additional considerations. Here, it’s possible for flavors to do both harm and good.”
But the FDA Chief doesn’t stop there. He continues by claiming that vaping among children is on the rise while further implying that e-cigs are a gateway to smoking addiction. Meanwhile, vaping advocates cite numerous scientific studies that not only refute this assertion but prove the reserve to be true (one such study entitled E-cigarettes: Gateway or roadblock to cigarette smoking? is readily available on the Science Direct website). Gottlieb’s statement continues.
“The troubling reality is that e-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among middle and high school students, and flavors are identified as one of the top three reasons for use. Given these findings, we need to be wary of the role flavors play in attracting youth to initiate on any tobacco product that could lead to regular use – something we clearly want to avoid. No child should use any tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. At the same time, we’re aware that certain flavors may help currently addicted adult smokers switch to potentially less harmful forms of nicotine-containing tobacco products.”
Gottlieb appears to be walking a very fine line. It’s almost as if he has carefully chosen just the right words that will instill fear in the American vaping industry but without squashing their hopes entirely. Perhaps he knows that his “multiyear roadmap” to wipe out smoking addiction in the U.S. is going to be filled with many obstacles, and he can’t afford to piss off everyone – vapers and smokers – right off the bat.
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