How to curb teen vaping
GUESTWORK | David Palmer
The pervasiveness of teen vaping is bringing together policymakers at both the state and federal levels to address a growing problem. On the national level, flavored vaping products are illegal, and Illinois lawmakers are considering a ban on using e-cigarettes and vapes inside public places "in efforts to curb young people from smoking."
While youth smoking traditional cigarettes is at historic lows, particularly with the passage of Tobacco 21 policies that increased the smoking age to 21, teen vaping remains a concern. Between 2016 and 2018, e-cigarette use in Illinois increased a striking 45%, from 18.4% to 26.7% among high school seniors. While the CDC's 2022 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed a year-over-year decrease in youth vaping, over 10% of teens nationally still used e-cigarettes regularly.
It is important for the FDA and state regulators to continue working to address youth vaping. But a key point missing from the conversation regarding youth usage of vaping products is this: Why are these products, most of which are illegal, still on the market?
The answer is a failure of enforcement.
Former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot went after vaping manufacturers and retailers in multiple lawsuits alleging deceptive advertising to young people and underage sales. The FDA has taken a similar approach, issuing some warning letters and fines.
But despite these efforts, illegal vaping products remain widely available.
According to a Truth Initiative study, "None of the warning letters sent by the Food and Drug Administration to e-cigarette companies between 2020 and 2021 covered e-cigarette brands with a large market share and few addressed the e-cigarette product types most used by youth."
U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, is keenly aware of this issue. As she highlighted during a Food and Drug Administration budget hearing, the agency has the authority to regulate synthetic nicotine products. But to date, zero synthetic nicotine products have been authorized. Despite civil penalties and warning letters, many of these products remain on the market. When asking FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf what additional steps the FDA is taking to remove these products from the market, given that its previous actions have been ineffective, Califf mainly provided excuses, not solutions.
If the FDA is serious about getting these products off the streets and out of the hands of underage youth, they must prioritize enforcement measures that will be effective.
The vaping market is constantly evolving, with new products and formulations introduced regularly. Illicit manufacturers and distributors often stay one step ahead of regulations by creating new products or modifying existing ones to bypass restrictions. This dynamic nature of the market means that regulators must stay vigilant on enforcement to effectively eliminate illegal products from stores.
Unfortunately, instead of focusing on enhancing enforcement of current e-cigarette policies to actually address youth vaping and rising to the occasion to address new variations of these products, the FDA is prioritizing banning other tobacco products, like menthol, used by legal adults.
If the FDA is serious about helping to prevent the next generation from getting addicted to nicotine, it must take an all-hands-on-deck approach and step up coordination between federal, state and local authorities, as well as use adequate resources to conduct inspections and enforce regulations. This should be the top priority for the FDA before the agency moves forward with additional bans that it won't be able to enforce.
David Palmer, a Champaign Democrat, ran for Congress last year in Illinois' 13th District primary election. He lost to Nikki Budzinski of Springfield, who won the seat.