Swedish FishThe tobacco industry has long enjoyed freedom from regulation. While traditional cigarettes and products such as smokeless tobacco have been regulated only as recently as 2009 (Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, or TCA), new tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes and vaporizer pens, have since flooded the market, creating a need for additional regulations. These regulations should focus on keeping new tobacco products out of the hands of children and teenagers, who today are easily more influenced by the marketing of alternative nicotine-containing products.

As of May 2016, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been given new authority for rulemaking through an expanded definition of tobacco products, which include e-cigarettes, cigars, hookah tobacco and pipe tobacco, among others. The aim is to restrict youth from accessing these nicotine-containing products. The new rules make positive strides for consumer protection, but more specifically for youth in the following ways:

  • Requiring premarket review and authorization of new tobacco products by the FDA
  • Helping prevent misleading claims by tobacco product manufacturers
  • Registering manufacturing establishments and providing product listings to the FDA
  • Evaluating the ingredients of tobacco products and production process
  • More clearly communicating the risks and health warnings of tobacco products on packaging and advertisements
  • Not allowing products to be sold to persons under the age of 18 (both in-person and online)
  • Requiring photo ID age verification
  • Not allowing the selling of tobacco products in vending machines (unless in an adult-only facility)
  • Not allowing the distribution of free samples

These new regulations will take effect on August 8, 2016, with the warning label requirement taking effect May 2018.

These new regulations have the potential to generate significantly positive outcomes for kids, such as fewer tobacco purchases by teenagers, and a greater awareness among adults to keep tobacco products away from children. There have been far too many cases where young children, even babies, mistake liquid nicotine bottles for candy and ingest these products. One teaspoon of liquid nicotine can be deadly to an infant. Clear warning labels issued in the ruling will be clear about the dangers of ingesting liquid nicotine.

A previous First Focus report, “The New Joe Camel in Your Pantry: Marketing liquid nicotine to children with candy and cereal brands,” uncovered more than 500 cases of liquid nicotine being sold online in flavors of candy and cereals adopting trademarked brands such as Wrigley’s Big Red Gum and Quaker Oats’ Cap’n Crunch. The First Focus report led to a letter written co-signed by nine members of Congress asking the Federal Trade Comission (FTC), asking the agency to investigate possible trademark violations associated with these e-cigarette products. Separate letters were sent to more than 167 liquid nicotine retailers included in the First Focus report asking the respective businesses to respond to allegations of dubious online marketing practices.

Despite the new FDA regulations, the use of e-cigarettes among youth remain a critical concern, being the fastest growing product in the tobacco industry and the most threatening to children’s health. In 2015, three million middle and high school students were e-cigarette users. The current e-cigarette use rate among high school students has skyrocketed from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2015 (more than a 900 percent increase).

Because e-cigarettes have not been properly labeled, there haven’t been official warnings about their health effects, and many people incorrectly assume e-cigarettes are healthier than combustible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found that youth nicotine exposure can promotes addiction, lead to sustained tobacco use, and may cause lasting harm to brain development, such as memory and behavior control. The liquid nicotine in e-cigarettes contains the same risks as the nicotine in combustible cigarettes.

What’s important about the FDA’s new definition is that it makes clear that the risks of all tobacco products should be easy to read and understand on all product labeling.

While the new FDA rules are a step in the right direction, more should be done to address dubious e-cigarette marketing and e-cigarette flavors that clearly target children and youth, neither of which are significantly addressed in the new regulations.

Studies have found that e-cigarette marketing expenditures have drastically increased from $6.4 million in 2011 to more than $115 million in 2015. Questionable marketing tactics are one of the biggest instigators of youth e-cigarette smoking and child-friendly product packaging leads to sickness, and even death, in younger children. Based on a 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey, the CDC found that nearly 7 in 10 middle and high school students see e-cigarette advertising in stores, newspapers, magazines, movies, online, and on television on a regular basis.

Children and teenagers are easily attracted by liquid nicotine flavors such as bubblegum or Reeses’s Pieces. Because of these flavors, youth often see “vaping” as a harmless social activity. In 2014, 73 percent of high school students and 56 percent of middle school students who used tobacco products in the past 30 days reported purchasing products with flavoring. Lorillard Tobacco Company has even admitted that companies purposefully use flavored e-cigarettes to glamorize their products and target youth.

Some reports indicate the FDA could target the regulation of e-cigarette flavors in the future, but considering that it took seven years for its last set of rules to be released, more should be done now.

If tobacco smoking in the U.S. continues at its current rate, 5.6 million youth will die early from a smoking-related illness, equaling about 1 of every 13 Americans aged 17 years or younger.

The reality is that youth consumption of tobacco in any form is unsafe and unhealthy, therefore, preventing it is a critical step in ending the tobacco epidemic in the U.S. The CDC “want[s] parents to know that nicotine is dangerous for kids at any age, whether it’s an e-cigarette, hookah, cigarette, or cigar.”

Even though there’s more to be done to keep e-cigarettes away from children and youth, we thank the FDA for taking a critical step to protect youth from this new wave of harmful tobacco products.

Olivia Tompkins is a Summer 2016 intern at First Focus. She is a junior at the University of Georgia, studying public relations with a certificate in public affairs communication.