healthHealth and Medicine

The FDA Is About To Come Down Hard On E-Cigarette "Epidemic" With Potential Ban


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer


Tick tock. Fedorovacz/Shutterstock

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now considers the increasingly prolific use of e-cigarettes amongst younger people as an “epidemic”. As a result, they’ve asked the manufacturers of vaping products to act – otherwise, their products might be prohibited from sale.

Every day, around 1,300 Americans die from smoking-related illnesses. Such grim statistics prompted the FDA to recently propose that the level of nicotine, the addictive substance that gets people hooked, permitted in products should be brought down, either suddenly or gradually over time, to eventually wean people off smoking.


This could potentially prevent 8.5 million premature deaths by the end of the century. An accompanying study that looked into the scheme also found that should this plan be enacted, it could stop 33 million people from becoming regular smokers by the same date.

E-cigarettes, aside from the occasional exploding piece of tech, are often considered by experts, including the FDA, to be potentially safer alternatives to conventional puff tubes. There’s a huge body of work, however, attempting to find out how this product, which is quickly becoming popular across the country and the wider world, does cause harm to individuals.

There’s some evidence, for example, that links certain flavors of vape juice to damage to the cells that line your airways. At present, though, it’s not entirely clear how harmful the constituent parts of the juice and the various flavors actually are, so plenty more research is required.

The FDA point out that, despite lacking tobacco and plenty of the nasties present in normal cigarettes, nicotine itself is hardly a benign substance. “That’s why we need a strong regulatory process that puts these new products through an appropriate series of regulatory gates,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb explained in a statement.


Stressing that the FDA need to properly evaluate the public health impacts such products have before they can approve them, Gottlieb noted that the speed in which e-cigarettes have appeared and spread hasn’t given them enough time to do just that.

“We didn’t predict what I now believe is an epidemic of e-cigarette use among teenagers,” Gottlieb said. “Today we can see that this epidemic of addiction was emerging when we first announced our plan last summer.”

Epidemic isn’t a word the FDA use lightly, but they appear to have no better way to label what they describe as a “disturbing and accelerating trajectory” of e-cigarette use, and subsequent addiction, in youth groups. “The FDA won’t tolerate a whole generation of young people becoming addicted to nicotine as a tradeoff for enabling adults to have unfettered access to these same products.”

So, while they continue their research, they will use their most effective short-term tool to stem the tide: enforcement.


With the help of the Federal Trade Commission, they’ve cracked down on misleading advertising by unscrupulous e-cigarette companies. They’re also planning to launch a national awareness campaign to highlight the dangers of nicotine.

This week, they’ve seriously amped up their efforts, aiming their crosshairs at thousands of retail and online sales of e-cigarettes to minors. They’re targeting flavored products especially, which they see as being geared towards teenagers.

It’s the largest single enforcement action in the agency’s history. Five manufacturers, representing 97 percent of the total market, have been told to work out how they’ll convincingly tackle the use of their products by minors in 60 days.

If these plans fall short, the FDA is seriously considering the “immediate removal of these flavored products from the market.”


“We’re at a crossroads today,” Gottlieb concluded. “It’s one where the opportunities from new innovations will be responsibly seized on right now, or perhaps lost forever.”


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