Just as youth cigarette smoking fell to their lowest point in decades, a stunning increase in e-cigarette use among America’s youth threatens to create a new generation of young people addicted to nicotine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) most recent National Youth Tobacco Survey found that there was a 78 percent increase in high schoolers using e-cigarettes from 2017 to 2018, with use among middle-schoolers jumping by nearly 50 percent.
Concerned about an epidemic of e-cigarette use among teenagers that health experts fear could lead them to go on to use traditional tobacco products, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed actions aimed at preventing youth access to, and use of, flavored tobacco products.
The agency has taken good first steps. And we encourage the FDA to go further with these 3 additional measures to ensure past progress against use tobacco use is not threatened:
Remove flavored products from the market.
E-cigarettes are often promoted as a means to stop smoking, yet there is limited evidence suggesting they are effective in helping smokers quit. Unfortunately, the pace of research on the health effects of e-cigarettes hasn’t matched the meteoric rise in their use, and we need to know more about how e-cigarettes impact health, especially given young peoples’ preference for flavored vapes. The FDA should remove flavored products from the market that haven’t undergone a thorough health review. Manufacturers should be required to substantiate claims these products are truly safe and effective before allowing them to sell to consumers.
Provide enforcement of mint and menthol flavors.
Research suggests that teens are especially attracted to flavored e-cigarette products. In fact, 97 percent of kids who “vape” use flavors. They’re making their way into the hands of minors despite federal restrictions on sales to anyone under 18. While we support FDA in cracking down on manufacturers and retailers that are marketing and selling to youth to ensure their access to these products is limited, they’ve excluded menthol- and mint-flavors in their enforcement efforts. More than half of high schoolers that vape already use mint and menthol, according to FDA and CDC data, suggesting a strong potential for teens to switch to these flavors when others become less available. We shouldn’t allow that to happen.
Support initiatives to raise the age of tobacco and e-cigarette purchases to 21.
Despite the known risks, 3,200 young people try a cigarette for the first time every day, and many will go on to become long-term smokers. In fact, approximately 90 percent of adults who smoke daily report that they first used cigarettes before the age of 19. Research shows that by raising the purchase age to 21, tobacco use by teenagers and young adults can be delayed, maybe even prevented. And the age group that would benefit the most are those age 15 to 17 years.
States and localities around the country are implementing laws that raise the age at which a young person can buy tobacco to 21, and the movement has gained traction recently among both parties in Congress. Many of the laws include raising the purchase age of e-cigarettes, in hopes of curbing nicotine use and dependency across the board, and we encourage the FDA to support these efforts.
Read the full BCBSA comment letter to the FDA.
Also, see our recommendations to the CDC.
And learn more about why tobacco is still a public health enemy.
See our infographic on the prevalence of e-cigarette usage among America’s youth.