FDA threatens to wipe out US vape market over “kids” hysteria

In a move that harm reduction advocates are already slamming as misguided and damaging, the FDA threatened this week to ban sales of the most popular flavoured e-cigarettes unless the five companies that lead the convenience store segment take steps to prevent sales to teenagers.

According to a statement issued by FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb on Wednesday, there’s “good reason to believe” that teen vaping in the USA has “reached nothing short of an epidemic proportion of growth.” Based on this sensational but ungrammatical claim the FDA has given five leading e-cig manufacturers, which the agency blames for this “epidemic”, 60 days to come up with a plan to restrict sales of their products to under-18s.

The affected manufacturers are JUUL Labs, BAT, Altria, Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco; between them they dominate the convenience store sector of the e-cig market. Now the FDA is holding them responsible for the failure of some retailers to obey the law on selling vapour products to under-18s. If the agency isn’t satisfied with the plans, Gottlieb is threatening to scrap the extension period of the Deeming Regulations – forcing the products off the market until the companies go through the cumbersome Pre Market Tobacco Authorization process.

There are two flaws in the FDA’s plan. One is that, once their products have been shipped to retailers, there isn’t a lot the manufacturers can do to restrict who they’re sold on to. Gottlieb is essentially talking about punishing vape companies because someone else broke the law. The other problem is that the “teen vaping epidemic” doesn’t actually exist. Repeated studies show that while many teenagers experiment with e-cigarettes, only a small percentage go on to use them regularly – and most of those are teens who already smoke, and would benefit from switching to a safer alternative.

Tobacco share prices rose sharply after Gottlieb’s statement, in anticipation of a surge in cigarette sales following a vaping crackdown.


Access to cheap e-cigs “human rights issue,” say experts

A group of harm reduction experts argued on Friday that, for smokers in developing countries, the price of vapour products is a human rights issue. Helen Redmond of New York University told the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum that the cost of vaping in low-income countries should be reduced urgently, opening up safer alternatives to poor smokers who are often priced out of the market. Redmond drew a comparison between nicotine and cannabis, pointing out that both have medicinal properties and that “Nicotine is not a dirty drug, it helps with depression and anxiety.”

Viscount Ridley, a prominent science advocate in the House of Lords, also told the conference that vaping is a human rights issue. Ridley said that imposing the same workplace restrictions on vaping as are already endured by smokers was an infringement of vapers’ rights, and that when it came to smoking, “The best way to get people to give up is to innovate with technology.”


Another vaper injured in battery accident

A woman in Springfield, Virginia was airlifted to hospital on Saturday after suffering severe burns in a battery explosion. According to the local fire brigade 34-year-old Heather Boyd and her boyfriend were sitting in her car when a new battery she had just bought suddenly went into thermal runaway then exploded.

Although the media are reporting this as a “vaping device” exploding, it’s not clear what actually happened – and the fact Boyd had just bought new batteries is potentially significant. It’s also interesting that in the words of the local Fox News affiliate, Boyd’s boyfriend “was careful to say he doesn’t know” whether the explosion as caused by the batteries or the device. It’s likely that Boyd hadn’t actually put the new batteries in the device and was carrying them loose in a pocket or bag; this is the cause of almost all battery incidents.

UK vaper numbers rise again

A new survey for Action on Smoking and Health has found that, for the first time, the number of vapers in the UK has broken the three million mark. When ASH first started tracking the popularity of e-cigarettes in 2012 there were around 750,000 British vapers; that figure has quadrupled in six years, and ASH also found that for the first time exclusive vapers outnumber dual users – yet another nail in the coffin of anti-vaping arguments.

However, despite the good news, the report’s authors also warned that misinformation is still rife, including what they called a “worrying” belief that vaping is as bad as smoking. More education on relative risk is clearly needed – and so-called experts who spread alarmist claims about vaping need to be strongly challenged.