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“If there really are many people addicted to low-risk nicotine, removal of the low-risk products they prefer virtually guarantees many will move to cigarettes,” said industry expert and chair of the Advisory Board for Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics at the University of Ottawa, David Sweanor, in response to the FDA’s recent actions. “This is like claiming that the risk of clean needles is that they might lead people to switching to dirty needles, and the solution is to ban the clean ones!”

Following countless alarming media reports and mounting pressure from medical entities and the public alike, the FDA has been infamously cracking down on Juul labs. In September, the agency issued more than 1,000 warning letters to U.S. retailers and manufacturers of e-cigarettes, amongst which Juul, in what the agency called “the largest coordinated enforcement effort in the FDA’s history.”

“If there really are many people addicted to low-risk nicotine, removal of the low-risk products they prefer virtually guarantees many will move to cigarettes. This is like claiming that the risk of clean needles is that they might lead people to switching to dirty needles, and the solution is to ban the clean ones!”David Sweanor, Chair of the Advisory Board for Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics, University of Ottawa

The FDA’s actions against Juul Labs

In the letters, the agency demanded that these companies present proof that they can keep the nicotine-containing products out of the hands of minors, within 60 days. The FDA had threatened to ban candy-like flavors, such as bubble gum and crème brûlée, should they fail to do so.

Subsequently earlier in October, the FDA conducted an unexpected inspection at Juul’s San Francisco headquarters, and seized over a thousand documents related to the company’s operations. The agency said that this inspection “sought further documentation related to Juul’s sales and marketing practices, amongst other things.”

“Were the FDA to pursue a rational strategy, it would be deadly cigarettes, rather than their safer substitutes, that were disadvantaged.”David Sweanor, Chair of the Advisory Board for Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics, University of Ottawa

As a result of these efforts, last week Juul Labs Inc. said that it is planning to stop selling most of its flavored e-liquids at bricks-and-mortar stores. The e-cig manufacturer would keep on selling menthol- and tobacco-flavored products in stores, and all the other flavoured e-liquids will remain available for sale on its website, which has age-verification controls.

Juul’s new measures are intended to make it much harder for anyone under 21 to purchase vaping products. The manufacturer’s website will soon be utilising a two-factor authentication system, using a text message to verify a user’s identity, and if the customer’s age cannot be verified or they didn’t provide their social security number, then they must upload a valid government-issued ID card. Eventually, users will be required to upload a “real-time” image of themselves to be matched with their ID.

These controls will harm disadvantaged people

However, public health expert David Sweanor, pointed out that these controls “protect[s] cigarettes and disproportionately harms disadvantaged people,” adding that people with limited resources who are seeking to quit smoking via safer alternatives are going to be facing several stumbling blocks: “multiple levels of verification, the luxury of being able to plan ahead, the use of a credit card, availability of government identification and the ability to upload such a document.”

In line with what other smoking cessation experts have pointed out, Sweanor said that the FDA’s approach is “irrational and counterproductive.” “Were the FDA to pursue a rational strategy, it would be deadly cigarettes, rather than their safer substitutes, that were disadvantaged,” he said. “The agency would also be going to tremendous lengths to inform smokers about relative risks. It would certainly stop misleading advertising campaigns and the funding of ideologues posing as scientists.”

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