The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a policy which would see all flavoured pre-filled vape pods banned in the USA, with two exceptions. Tobacco and menthol will be exempted from the flavoured pods ban in what is a mere consolation to some quite ludicrous legislation.
Updated: 18th March 2020
The vaping industry in the USA has been hit hard recently by the news of illnesses and some fatalities due to the use of illicit THC-containing e-liquids. Despite the cause of these tragic incidents having nothing to do with regulated nicotine-containing e-liquids, responsible vape companies are being punished for the actions of illicit market vendors.
So, rather than introducing sensible regulation which would restrict the use of illicit and harmful products, the USA has decided to go the other way and prohibit many of the products which are in fact helping millions of smokers to make positive improvements to their health.
What does the ban cover?
The ban relates to the prohibition of flavoured closed pod systems only, with the exception of tobacco and menthol flavours. It does not cover nicotine containing e-liquids for use in “open” devices, which is apparently to support small businesses.
Initially Trump had suggested a blanket ban on all e-liquid flavours, not just closed pods. This was quickly reversed after backlash from key stakeholders. Nevertheless, officials seem set on enforcing some sort of draconian regulation to stifle the industry… But why?
What is the reason for the ban?
The reasoning given by those responsible for the new policy is to stem the rise of youth vaping. According to these anti-vaping advocates, pre-filled pod systems are a serious issue among young people in the States. However, this so-called ‘epidemic’ doesn’t seem to be based on firm evidence, but more of a witch hunt on vaping.
One particular closed pod system, which is popular in the USA has been at the centre of the majority of these youth targeting accusations. This led to a complete vaping ban in San Francisco where the company’s headquarters are situated. As the flavoured pods ban doesn’t cover open systems, it seems as though the ban is a targeted effort at this one particular brand in question, as they only produce this product set.
In a statement, FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn said:
“The enforcement policy we’re issuing today confirms our commitment to dramatically limit children’s access to certain flavored e-cigarette products we know are so appealing to them,”
The section of this statement which cites ‘we know are so appealing to them’ is slightly misleading. It seems to be based on sensationalist news stories form the States which tend use misinterpreted figures on youth uptake of vaping. Media outlets with misled agendas have taken stats on experimentation of vaping products within young people and twisted them to suggest that kids are picking up e-cigs and using them regularly.
However, evidence shows that these young people are simply experimenting with e-cigarettes and not becoming nicotine dependent. The authors of ‘Epidemic of youth nicotine addiction? What does the National Youth Tobacco Survey reveal about high school e-cigarette use in the USA?’ said,
“Data from the [US] Youth Tobacco Survey do not support claims of a new epidemic of nicotine addiction stemming from use of e-cigarettes […] Among current e-cigarette users who had never tried tobacco products, responses consistently pointed to minimal dependence.”
Further research by the CDC explored why the youth uptake of vaping had risen in the USA. The main reason (56%) to be cited was “I was curious about them”. Less than a quarter of young people said they tried vaping because “They are available in flavors, such as mint, candy, fruit, or chocolate”. It is therefore hardly conclusive that flavours are to blame for young people trying e-cigarettes.
It is also very coincidental that the ban comes amid a spate of illnesses (EVALI), in the USA. The causation of these illnesses has now been firmly linked to the use of Vitamin E Acetate, which has been used a thickening agent for THC-containing liquids. Many of the cases have involved young people. This new flavoured pods ban would in no way help to safeguard against this issue. If anything, it would exasperate it, as the pre-filled pod market may be forced to go underground, potentially leading to unregulated products making their way into the hands of young people.
The actual reasoning behind the ban is potentially much more convoluted than those given by the FDA. As we have unfortunately come to expect, it certainly doesn’t seem to be in the best interest of public health and the knock-on consequences could be devastating.
The potential repercussions of the flavour pods ban?
The flavoured pods ban may not seem like a big deal but it could have a tragic detrimental effect on smoking rates, and ultimately public health, in the States. Flavours are a huge part of why vaping has proven to be so successful and by taking them away, they could drive millions back to smoking.
In some aspect, Stephen Hahn is correct when he suggests that ‘certain flavoured e-cigarette products are so appealing to them’. Flavoured vapes are appealing, not just to kids but to adults who are looking to quit smoking. In fact, it can be argued that flavoured vapes are pivotal in ensuring that e-cigarettes reach their potential as a smoking cessation aid.
At the recent UK E-cigarette Summit, Totally Wicked Technical Director, Liam Humberstone explored this point in fine detail. Liam’s figures showed that just 10% of Totally Wicked Red Label e-liquid sales are attributable to tobacco varieties.
Smokers who choose to make the switch to vaping are empowered to do so as they have made the choice themselves and have a variety of options. Whilst this may seem completely alien to the powers that be, the majority of vapers actually enjoy vaping, whilst simultaneously managing to ditch the habit they’ve previously failed to ditch on many occasions.
By taking away this flavour choice, you potentially take away the enjoyment of vaping for millions of ex-smokers. This could result in these people relapsing to smoking and put them at greater risk of smoking-related diseases.
Now, this is not to say that we should forget about the rise in youth vaping in the USA. Whilst the aforementioned headlines may be based on unreliable findings, it is of course important to remember that e-cigarettes are not intended for adolescents.
This can be combatted by introducing sensible regulations and firm age restriction processes. In the UK, where e-cigarettes are widely embraced, there is no such issue. Sensible age verification processes as well as advertising restrictions are in place to protect young people. This allows vaping to flourish and help millions of adults quit smoking, while keeping e-cigarettes out the hands of children. The UK now boasts an all-time low smoking rate of 14.4% and health experts attribute a large proportion of this success to e-cigarettes.
Will the US policy makers ever follow suit, or will they continue to be led astray by the corporate powerhouses with misplaced agendas?