On Wednesday, September 11, 2019, the Trump Administration issued a statement regarding the recent outbreak of illnesses and deaths related to the use of electronic cigarettes (“e-cigarettes”). Soon after, the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) quickly followed suit. The Trump Administration’s statement comes after reports of 380 cases of lung illness associated with the use of e-cigarettes in 36 states, in addition to 7 deaths. Both political parties have pressed for flavor bans, age restrictions, and other restrictions on the sale of vaping products. They have urged the FDA to move quickly and decisively to investigate and regulate e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes have been touted by manufacturers as a way to wean people from traditional cigarettes but have recently led to an “epidemic” of youth vaping of nicotine. E-cigarettes are popular among teens due to their availability, advertisements, e-liquid flavors, and the belief that they are safer than cigarettes. The long-term risks of vaping are currently unknown, but a growing numbers of studies show that e-cigarette vapor has severe health risks, including damaging lung tissue and blood vessels.
The rise of electronic cigarettes was initially met with relaxed FDA regulation given optimism that they could help adult smokers curb use of more toxic combustible cigarettes. This optimism was in spite of e-cigarettes’ growing popularity among adolescents and young adults. On September 12, the FDA signaled a pivot from this approach when FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb described youth e-cigarette use as having reached epidemic proportions. Gottlieb announced that the FDA had issued more than 1,300 warning letters and fines to retailers caught selling e-cigarette products to minors. It also issued an order to the five major e-cigarette manufacturers (Juul, Vuse, Blu, MarkTen XL, and Logic) to each submit a plan outlining how the company will address youth access and use of their products. Failure to submit a sufficient plan could lead the FDA to revisit its earlier decision on flavored e-cigarette products, which allowed manufacturers a grace period until 2022 to receive FDA approval.