- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb released draft guidance Wednesday to crack down on fruity e-cigarette flavors blamed for a vaping epidemic among teenagers.

The proposal, which will be open for comment for 30 days, says vendors must take steps to keep e-cigarettes with flavors like berry and watermelon away from minors, such as only selling them in rooms where juveniles aren’t allowed.

Online sellers must use third-party services to verify a person’s age and should control sales to make sure the quantities being bought are reasonable.

“Evidence shows that youth are especially attracted to flavored e-cigarette products, and that minors are able to access these products from both brick-and-mortar retailers, as well as online, despite federal restrictions on sales to anyone under 18,” Dr. Gottlieb said in a statement explaining the move.

His guidance does not target products with tobacco, mint or menthol flavors, which are considered more attractive to adult users who are trying to quit regular cigarettes.

The draft does, however, move to ban many flavored cigars, and it moves up the deadline for makers of e-cigs that hit the market after 2007 to prove they offer a benefit to public health. The applications are due in 2021.

Juul, the company that holds an outsized share of the vaping market, is reviewing the draft guidance but said it already moved in November 2018 to yank flavored “pods” from retail shelves and improve online age verification.

“We are committed to reducing youth usage while preserving our opportunity to eliminate combustible cigarettes, the number one cause of preventable death in the world,” said the company, whose popular product resembles a USB flash drive.

Dr. Gottlieb shocked Washington by announcing this month he will step down in early April to spend more time with his family in Connecticut.

During his tenure, Dr. Gottlieb spoke favorably about e-cigs as an off-ramp for adults smokers, though he said the exploding rate of teen use is an unacceptable trade-off. He made it a signature issue.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II assured Congress that Dr. Gottlieb’s successor, Norman “Ned” Sharpless, also will take a tough stance on e-cigs and other parts of the FDA agenda when he takes over as acting commissioner.

The vow will cheer advocates for a tougher line on e-cigs, who fear a new generation will become hooked on nicotine and transition to combustible cigarettes, which are considered far more dangerous due to toxic ingredients.

More than 3.6 million middle and high school students were using e-cigarettes in 2018, according to a federal survey, a huge increase from 1.5 million the previous year.

Conservative groups and lawmakers from tobacco states are skittish about the administration’s crackdown, however.

Rep. Richard Hudson, North Carolina Republican, told Mr. Azar on Tuesday he is concerned that moves targeting the e-cigarette industry could be counterproductive among adult smokers looking to quit.

“I think the data shows this is a safe alternative,” Mr. Hudson said at a Capitol Hill hearing on Mr. Trump’s 2020 budget. “So far, the process is flowing one way, where we see people come off combustible tobacco to vapor-type products, and we’re not seeing the reverse.”

Some lawmakers are running in the opposition direction.

Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat, said the FDA’s move is a step in the right direction, but the solution is to enact a ban on flavored e-cigs outright.

“While I appreciate the FDA’s actions today that are aimed at making it harder for our teens to get the enticing flavors of nicotine that many of them now crave, it alone will not solve the problem,” she said. “To end this epidemic, we must ban the sale of these kid-friendly flavors of nicotine that led to its creation in the first place.”

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