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On Thursday, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, announced the agency has begun the process to institute an FDA flavor ban for e-cigarettes, and eventually hopes to ban menthol in cigarettes as well.

The new FDA policy will require all flavored e-cigarette products “other than tobacco, mint, and menthol flavors, or non-flavored products” be sold in “age-restricted, in-person locations” or online, “under heightened practices for age-verification.” The FDA plans to be closely monitoring online sales of e-cigarettes going forward.

As Soupwire reported last week, e-cigarette manufacturer JUUL has already begun to take these steps.

The agency is hoping the FDA banning flavors will curb the trend of what Gottlieb calls an “epidemic” of youth vaping, based on the most recent CDC report of a 78% increase in e-cigarette use by high school students — meaning 1 in 5 high school students are now using e-cigarettes.

While Gottlieb agreed that e-cigarettes can help adults to quit smoking, the agency is carefully weighing those benefits against the potential risks e-cigarettes pose to teens.

Gottlieb stated, “any policy accommodation to advance the innovations that could present an alternative to smoking – particularly as it relates to e-cigarettes – cannot, and will not, come at the expense of addicting a generation of children to nicotine through these same delivery vehicles. This simply will not happen. I will take whatever steps I must to prevent this.”

The FDA also announced that restricting the sale of menthol cigarettes will be their next target.

Dr. Gottlieb stated, “the popularity of menthol cigarettes with youth is especially troubling. In fact, youth smokers are more likely to use menthol cigarettes than any other age group. More than half (54 percent) of youth smokers ages 12-17 use menthol cigarettes, compared to less than one-third of smokers ages 35 and older. Prevalence of menthol use is even higher among African-American youth, with data showing that seven out of 10 African-American youth smokers select menthol cigarettes.”

In addition to the FDA banning flavors for e-cigarettes, the agency announced it will seek to ban menthol cigarettes and cigars, and flavored cigars as well.

Gottlieb is taking a wait-and-see approach with the flavor bans, stating, “If the policy changes that we have outlined don’t reverse this epidemic, and if the manufacturers don’t do their part to help advance this cause, I’ll explore additional actions.”

The Iowa Attorney General Thomas J. Miller responded to the FDA flavor ban announcement with a statement co-authored by Dr. David Abrams, a professor at the NYU College of Global Public Health, stating, “We share your widely reported concern about the rise in e-cigarette use among adolescents. At the same time, we remain hopeful that by encouraging smokers who cannot or who choose not to quit to switch to e-cigarettes, we may be able substantially to reduce premature mortality due to smoking, which remains the #1 risk factor in the US and in the world. With so much to gain from e- cigarette use by smokers, we write to urge FDA to take carefully calibrated and proportionate action in response. We hope you will consider the possible resulting harm to public health that could arise from disproportionate intervention, given the relative harms of cigarettes and e-cigarettes, the interactions between youth vaping and smoking, and between adult use and youth use.”

Soupwire will continue to keep you updated on the FDA flavor ban, and all the latest vaping news.