“End the Nicotine Trap” campaign urges FDA to keep e-cigarettes from kids

Media Contacts
Matt Wellington

Former Director, Public Health Campaigns, PIRG

U.S. PIRG, a key player in tobacco regulation for decades, calls for immediate actions


WASHINGTON — Given the rapid rise of e-cigarette use, commonly known as vaping, among young people the consumer advocacy group U.S. PIRG is urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to restrict youth access and appeal of these products. The agency should immediately ban all flavored e-cigarettes, and other flavored tobacco products, because research shows that mint, menthol and other sweet flavors hook kids. The FDA should also pull e-cigarettes off the market that have not undergone the agency’s required public health review.

U.S. PIRG is mobilizing consumer and public health groups, concerned parents and doctors to call on the FDA to act now.

“The FDA opened Pandora’s box when it allowed e-cigarettes to remain on the market without proper review of the public health risks and potential appeal to young people. Now, we need bold actions to remedy the damage done,” said Matthew Wellington, the End the Nicotine Trap Campaign Director from U.S. PIRG.

One in five high school students reported using e-cigarettes in 2018, representing nearly an 80 percent increase in vaping among high schoolers last year. The surge in e-cigarette use among America’s youth reverses years of progress in reducing underage use of tobacco products.

E-cigarettes are harmful, especially for young people. They often contain high levels of nicotine, an addictive substance that can impact learning, contribute to mood disorders, and lead to addiction to other substances when people are exposed to it during adolescence.

“Nicotine is not safe for the developing brain. My own patients and millions of adolescents across the United States are now facing the possibility of a long battle with tobacco addiction because of the allure of flavored nicotine products, including mint and menthol. Future generations will judge us based on what we do to protect children from these highly addictive products,” said Jonathan Winickoff MD, MPH Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School and MassGeneral Hospital for Children.

According to a Surgeon General’s report, more than 80 percent of young e-cigarette users reported that they use the products “because they come in flavors I like.” The FDA has proposed to restrict some of the flavors and limit where they can be sold, but public health advocates say that’s not good enough. For example, mint and menthol flavored e-cigarettes wouldn’t be affected by the FDA’s proposed regulations. Those flavors ranked fourth-most popular among e-cigarette users aged 12-17, according to a recent survey. The FDA should ban all flavored e-cigarettes, and other flavored tobacco products, because they attract kids.

While the government heavily regulates traditional tobacco products, in part because of decades of work by U.S. PIRG and its state affiliates, as of now, there is little to no oversight for e-cigarette products. That’s because the FDA allowed the products to bypass the review that new tobacco products are required to go through before hitting the market to determine risks to public health and appeal to youth. The agency is proposing to move the deadline for reviewing e-cigarette products up to August 2021, but still, the reviews could take years while e-cigarettes remain on the market.

“Given the rampant rise in vaping in one year, it’s critical that the FDA pull e-cigarettes that haven’t been properly reviewed off the market quickly. Otherwise, potentially millions more kids will get caught in the nicotine trap.” said Faye Park, U.S. PIRG President.