The FDA and CDC released new findings on the use of e-cigarettes among middle and high school students on Nov. 15 that show an alarming rise in the number of children using these products.
In just one year, more than 1.5 million students were added to the number of children reporting use of e-cigarettes within the past 30 days, more than doubling the total number of young people using these devices to 3.6 million.
The study authors attribute this rise to the increasing popularity of e-cig devices, which sometimes come in fruit and candy flavors that appeal to children and resemble slim USB flash drives, allowing them to be used discreetly.
The dramatic increase has spurred the FDA to propose new regulations aimed at the key factor that makes electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) most appealing to children – namely, child-friendly flavors. However, the proposed regulations go further as well. The FDA is also seeking regulations that would address the use of flavors in traditional cigarettes and cigars.
A good thing
“I think the proposals, if enacted, will have some effect on decreasing the attraction to e-cigs and traditional tobacco, therefore decreasing nicotine exposure,” said AARC member and long-time anti-tobacco advocate Susan Rinaldo Gallo, MEd, BSRT, RRT, CTTS, FAARC.
“Greater than 20 percent of middle and high school students are using ENDS and e-cigs. The FDA recognizes that measures must be taken to prevent having a new generation of nicotine-addicted people.”
The FDA proposals specifically aim to –
- Protect children by having all flavored ENDS products (other than tobacco, mint, and menthol flavors or non-flavored products) sold in age-restricted, in-person locations and, if sold online, under heightened practices for age verification.
- Ban menthol in combustible tobacco products, including cigarettes and cigars.
- Ban flavors in cigars.
Rinaldo Gallo notes the new proposals fit in with other population-based strategies being used by the FDA to reduce all forms of tobacco use among U.S. youths and will benefit the long-term health of children and young people.
“Proposed restrictions that will decrease the likelihood of a young person trying e-cigs or a tobacco product are a good thing,” she says.
Seeking a lasting change
The FDA proposals were issued in an emotional statement by FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD.
“When I first announced our comprehensive tobacco framework plan in July 2017, I recognized my opportunity – an almost unprecedented opportunity – to use the tools that the FDA had been given in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act to bring about meaningful, lasting change to dramatically alter this cycle of disease and death,” said Dr. Gottlieb.
While he believes ENDS do have a role to play in helping adults quit smoking (and that’s one reason why he is not targeting the flavors of mint and menthol in these devices at the current time), he emphasizes that “any policy accommodation to advance the innovations that could present an alternative to smoking – particularly as it relates to e-cigarettes – cannot, and will not, come at the expense of addicting a generation of children to nicotine through these same delivery vehicles. This simply will not happen. I will take whatever steps I must to prevent this.”
Rinaldo Gallo urges her colleagues in respiratory care to join Dr. Gottlieb in his efforts to keep children away not only from tobacco products, but also from ENDS.
“I think RTs should be supportive of these changes when discussing the dangers of tobacco use and nicotine addiction,” she said.