High school e-cigarette use has jumped nearly 80%. Now, the FDA wants new regulations
(CNN)Vaping increased nearly 80% among high schoolers and 50% among middle schoolers since last year, prompting the US Food and Drug Administration to propose new measures against flavored nicotine products that have propelled the rise, the agency announcedThursday.
“These data shock my conscience,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement, proposing to strengthen the agency’s policies against flavored e-cigarette products. These proposals could ultimately prompt their removal from shelves and websites that are accessible to minors.
The proposed changes do not include mint, menthol and tobacco flavors, however. Gottlieb said he wanted to leave the door open for adults who might use these products to quit smoking cigarettes. But that should not mean fueling an “epidemic” of new kids becoming addicted, he added.
“We will not allow that opportunity to come at the expense of addicting a whole new generation of kids to nicotine,” Gottlieb said.
Despite these exceptions for e-cigarette flavors, Gottlieb proposed additional bans on regular menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.
He also proposed tightening the reins on products that are marketed or “appealing to youth.”
“This could include using popular children’s cartoon or animated characters, or names of products favored by kids like brands of candy or soda,” the announcement said.
Consumers and health experts have been locked in a contentious debate about vaping: While some see it as a smoking cessation tool for adults, others say there’s no good evidence to support this.
“We’re committed to utilizing the full range of our regulatory authorities to directly target the places kids are getting these products and address the role flavors and marketing are playing,” Gottlieb said.
“We will leave no stone unturned,” he said. “This is one of our highest priorities.”
‘Spike in use’
One in five high schoolers has vaped in the past month, according to the new numbers announced by the FDA and released in conjunction with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“As a father of three young children, I hear daily from parents and teachers worried about the epidemic use of electronic cigarettes and nicotine addiction among kids,” Gottlieb said.
Health experts worry these products could put kids’ developing brains at risk, get them hooked on nicotine early in life, and be a gateway to smoking and other drugs.
“The data show that kids using e-cigarettes are going to be more likely to try combustible cigarettes later,” Gottlieb said. “This is a large pool of future risk.”
The new statistics also show that students who vape are doing so more frequently than last year, and they are using flavored liquids more often, according to the FDA. More than a quarter of current users vaped at least 20 of the last 30 days, and over two-thirds had used flavored products.
“Flavors are a major reason they use these products in the first place,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement Thursday.
“Flavors increase the likelihood of kids progressing from experimentation to regular use, and a portion of them will go on to use combustible tobacco products, with the huge added dangers of tobacco-related disease.”
The new numbers come from a school-based survey, conducted from March to May, which revealed that the number of current users in middle and high school — meaning those who have vaped in the past 30 days — increased 48% and 78% from last year, respectively.
In other words, the number of current vapers in middle and high school has jumped by roughly 1.5 million since last year, now totaling 3.6 million kids, Gottlieb said.
The “alarming” surge in adolescent e-cigarette use prompted health officials to release these numbers “earlier than usual” in hopes of spurring immediate action, according to the FDA.
“Not only are we seeing a staggering increase in the number of high schoolers who use e-cigarettes, we’re seeing that more and more of them have moved beyond experimentation and are using e-cigarettes almost daily,” Dr. Colleen A. Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said in an emailed statement.
The rapid spread of e-cigarettes — which work by heating a liquid containing nicotine until it vaporizes — was flagged in a 2016 report by the US Surgeon General that cited a 900% increase in e-cigarette use by high school students from 2011 to 2015. E-cigarette use declined for the first time in 2016 but held steady — under 12% — the following year. Now, that number is 20.8%.
“This spike in use threatens to stall or reverse the substantial public health gains we’ve made by reducing tobacco use overall, and especially among children,” Gottlieb said.