U.S. health officials will ban most flavoured e-cigarettes popular with underage teenagers, but with major exceptions that benefit vaping manufacturers, retailers and adults who use the nicotine-emitting devices.
The Trump administration announced Thursday that it will prohibit fruit, candy, mint and dessert flavours from small, cartridge-based e-cigarettes that are popular with high school students. But menthol and tobacco-flavoured e-cigarettes will be allowed to remain on the market.
The flavour ban will also entirely exempt large, tank-based vaping devices, which are primarily sold in vape shops that cater to adult smokers.
Together, the two exemptions represent a significant retreat from President Donald Trump’s original plan announced four months ago, which would have banned all vaping flavours — including menthol — from all types of e-cigarettes. The new policy will preserve a significant portion of the multibillion-dollar vaping market. And the changes are likely to please both the largest e-cigarette manufacturer, Juul Labs, and thousands of vape shop owners who sell the tank-based systems, which allow users to mix customized flavours.
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that typically heat a flavoured nicotine solution into an inhalable aerosol. They have been pitched to adults as a less-harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes, but there is limited data on their ability to help smokers quit.
The Food and Drug Administration has struggled for years to find the appropriate approach to regulating vaping. Under current law, all e-cigarettes are supposed to undergo an FDA review beginning in May. Only those that can demonstrate a benefit for U.S. public health will be permitted to stay on the market.
“We have to protect our families,” Trump told reporters on Tuesday, ahead of the announcement. “At the same time, it’s a big industry. We want to protect the industry.”
The flavour ban applies to e-cigarettes that use pre-filled nicotine cartridges mainly sold at gas stations and convenience stores. Juul is the biggest player in that market, but it previously pulled all of its flavours except menthol and tobacco after coming under intense political scrutiny. Many smaller manufacturers continue to sell sweet, fruity flavours like “grape slushie,” “strawberry cotton candy” and “sea salt blueberry.”
The flavour restrictions won’t affect the larger specialty devices sold at vape shops, which typically don’t admit customers under 21. These tank-based systems allow users to fill the device with the flavour of their choice. Sales of these devices represent an estimated 40% of the U.S. vaping business, with sales across some 15,000 to 19,000 shops.
Still, the new policy represents the federal government’s biggest step yet to combat a surge in teen vaping that officials fear is hooking a generation of young people on nicotine. In the latest government survey, more than 1 in 4 high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the previous month, despite federal law banning sales to those under 18. Late last month Trump signed a law raising the minimum age to purchase all tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21 nationwide.
Matthew Perrone, The Associated Press