The controversy surrounding electronic cigarettes took a significant turn this week when the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the sale of three vaping products for the first time. Announcing the decision, the FDA revealed that the products’ potential to help smokers quit regular cigarettes outweighs the risks they pose to youth.
The decision applies to three items manufactured by Vuse, and allows the company to market its vaping device along with two tobacco-flavored cartridges, each containing 4.8 percent nicotine. Over recent months, the FDA has declined to authorize millions of other vaping products, including ten of Vuse’s non-tobacco flavored cartridges, stating that these are more likely to entice young people to begin vaping.
“The manufacturer’s data demonstrates its tobacco-flavored products could benefit addicted adult smokers who switch to these products – either completely or with a significant reduction in cigarette consumption – by reducing their exposure to harmful chemicals,” said Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.
He went on to say that the administration would “remain vigilant”, and would consider withdrawing its authorization “if credible evidence emerges of significant use by individuals who did not previously use a tobacco product, including youth.”
In its statement, the FDA explained that e-cigarettes expose users to fewer and less toxic aerosol particles than normal cigarettes, and that “the potential benefit to smokers who switch completely or significantly reduce their cigarette use, would outweigh the risk to youth.”
Predictably, the decision has sparked rigorous debate, with critics saying that the authorization of vaping products represents a serious public health risk to young people. One recent study found that the proportion of high school students who had used e-cigarettes rose from 1.5 percent to 27.5 percent between 2011 and 2019, indicating how youngsters have responded to the increased availability of these products.
Acknowledging these concerns, the FDA says that most young people who vape “begin with flavors such as fruit, candy or mint, and not tobacco flavors,” hence its decision to only authorize those that taste like tobacco.
While Vuse will be allowed to continue to sell its authorized products in the US, it will not be allowed to advertise on television, radio, or digital platforms – a measure the FDA says will prevent young people from becoming tempted to start vaping.
It is also significant that Vuse is owned by R.J. Reynolds, one of the world’s largest cigarette companies, and many detractors are highly concerned by the FDA’s willingness to yield to such a powerful corporation over such a contentious issue.
In spite of these concerns, the administration insists that “while today’s action permits the tobacco products to be sold in the U.S., it does not mean these products are safe or “FDA approved.” All tobacco products are harmful and addictive and those who do not use tobacco products should not start.”