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FDA reports increase in vaping among youth

Brandon Paykamian • Nov 18, 2018 at 12:08 AM

Electronic cigarettes, or “vape pens,” are often marketed as a safe alternative to smoking, but health experts in the region and throughout the nation have long expressed concerns that these products could cause an increase in nicotine addiction among the youth.

Now the Food and Drug Administration says vaping has increased nearly 80 percent among high schoolers and 50 percent among middle schoolers since last year. This prompted FDA officials to propose new measures Thursday targeting flavored nicotine products they claim attract young users.

“These increases must stop. And the bottom line is this: I will not allow a generation of children to become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a Thursday statement announcing the new proposals, which include more regulations on flavored products and marketing tactics they believe target youth through popular cartoon characters and names of candy products.

“We won’t let this pool of kids, a pool of future potential smokers, of future disease and death, to continue to build. We’ll take whatever action is necessary to stop these trends from continuing.”

In 2016, the FDA pushed regulations that included disallowing shop owners from giving away free samples, strictly prohibiting sales to those under 18 and disallowing vending machine sales in places that aren’t adult-only.

East Tennessee State University public health professor Dr. Hadii Mamudu, an expert on tobacco and nicotine policy research, has often expressed concern about how vaping could lead youth to take up smoking combustible tobacco products like cigars and cigarettes.

“One main concern is that they’ve never used cigarettes, so e-cigarettes are bringing in more nicotine users among the youth population,” he said in April. “The idea that it will help youth quit smoking is not true.”

But Gaige Slagle from Volunteer Vapors said he does not believe vaping serves as a gateway to smoking real cigarettes. He said “placing bans on flavors isn’t going to solve anything.”

“I wouldn’t see it as a gateway. If you were to start vaping and then try to transition from that to cigarettes, the taste is so awful, I would guarantee most people would not want to transition from vaping to smoking. The taste and the way the chemicals and tar make you feel is just so different. You can notice the difference,” he said, adding that other research may point to the fact that underage vaping is slowly on the decline along with smoking rates.

As for the underage use of vapes cited by the FDA, Slagle said the store he works in, along with other local e-cigarette shops, always asks for identification.

“No one wants to see kids vaping,” he said. “We card everyone.”

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