17 Sept 2019
U.S. Vows to Take Aggressive Action Against E-Cigarettes
On 11 September, President Trump spoke at the White House of the need to combat youth vaping by banning flavoured electronic cigarettes. On the same day, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that it is developing a policy to increase enforcement of pre-market authorisation requirements for non-tobacco-flavoured e-cigarettes, including menthol (mint-flavour), in order to “clear the market” of unauthorised, non-tobacco-flavoured e-cigarette products.
The FDA’s announcement noted that preliminary numbers from the National Youth Tobacco Survey show that more than a quarter of high school students were e-cigarette users in 2019, with the overwhelming majority of youth users citing the use of popular fruit and menthol flavours. U.S. cigarette and e-cigarette manufacturers have resisted calls to limit menthol production, a flavour that remains popular among U.S. adult smokers.
The first commercially successful e-cigarette was created in Beijing in 2003 by a pharmacist who sought to develop a safer alternative to cigarette smoking. The firm named the product Ruyan and U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued a binding tariff classification ruling on that product in 2006. U.S. e-cigarette consumption has skyrocketed since that time, with the customs value of total e-cigarette imports soaring by 300 percent from 2016 to 2018. E-cigarettes are being imported from about 65 countries, but imports from mainland China account for approximately 97 percent of the customs value of device imports.
The argument that e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to cigarettes for adult smokers seeking to reduce or quit smoking is challenged by actions of the largest e-cigarette firm, Juul Labs. On 9 September, the FDA issued a warning letter to Juul for marketing unauthorised modified risk tobacco products by engaging in labelling, advertising and/or other activities directed to consumers. The agency issued a second letter requesting additional information about issues raised in a recent congressional hearing regarding Juul’s outreach and marking practices. The FDA asked Juul to provide a written response within 15 days outlining its plan to correct the identified violations and to provide requested documents and information within 30 days. This followed a 2018 request for documents to examine the high rates of youth e-cigarette use.
Since vaping liquids used in the devices are often purchased separately, these liquids can include THC (a cannabinoid) as well as other substances of unknown origin. Recent reports of deaths of young people caused by vaping has caused increased concern in the United States.