Currently, we are experiencing a new phenomenon with youth consumption of e-cigarettes all around the United States, the journal Tobacco Control reports. For the second consecutive year, e-cigarettes were the most popular product among youth.
FDA’s newest statistics indicate that more than 3 million middle and high school students were users of e-cigarettes in 2015, representing 540,000 more consumers than in 2014.
New flavors appear to be one of the main reasons why teens are getting hooked on this product. In 2013-2014, 81 percent of the current e-cigarette youth users, pointed to the appealing flavors of e-cigarettes as one of the main reasons of why they started using them, stating that they used e-cigarettes “because they come in flavors I like.”
This is even more concerning when we see how quickly this market is growing. In a report released in January 2014, researchers found that every month, an average of 240 new flavors are added to the e-cigarette market.
Although tobacco companies claim that new flavors are simply a response to adult users’ demand for variety, flavored tobacco products primarily serve to attract new users, particularly kids, and to get them addicted.
As shown by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, an industry publication stated, “While different cigars target a variety of markets, all flavored tobacco products tend to appeal primarily to younger consumers.” Even the industry leader Lorillard, which sells flavored e-cigarettes such as kool-aid and gummy bears, has admitted that “kids may be particularly vulnerable to trying e-cigarettes due to an abundance of fun flavors such as cherry, vanilla, pina-colada, and berry.”
Previous bans on flavored tobacco
Cigarettes with specific characterizing flavors were prohibited by the FDA in 2009, with the goal of halting the tobacco industry’s strategy and reducing the number of children who start to smoke and become addicted to different tobacco products. It was no secret that before this ban, tobacco companies marketed cigarettes with flavors, images and names in order to appeal to a younger audience.
The flavored cigarette ban not only occurred in the US but has been a trend in various parts of the world. For instance, in 2012, Brazil became the first place to ban all tobacco flavors. Likewise, in 2014, the European Union passed the Tobacco Products Directive, which took effect on May 20, 2016, prohibiting flavored cigarettes, except for menthol, where the ban is delayed till 2020.
Almost seven years have passed since the FDA’s prohibition, and the results have been favorable. In 2006, the National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) indicated that 30.2 percent of male high school students and 21.3 percent of female smoked cigarettes, while the NYTS in 2013 showed that the smoking prevalence in male students had dropped to 14.1 percent and to 11.2 percent in females.
The statistics appear to show that the ban on flavored cigarettes has been helpful in reducing prevalence. However, it is important to take into consideration that the ban was not the only change in tobacco regulation. In the last couple of years, there were other policies which could have also been helpful, such as taxation and the restrictions on tobacco sales, labeling, advertising and promotion.
E-cigarette consumption increases overall consumption
The FDA’s ban on flavored cigarettes did not apply to e-cigarettes, which still can come in different flavors such as cotton candy, fruit punch, and chocolate. This is considered to be one of the main reasons why e-cigarette consumption has had such a huge increase.
This growing use of e-cigarettes can add to the problem by keeping overall youth tobacco use on the rise. A new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that there are more young tobacco consumers than before, if we include e-cigarettes. The study published in July 2016 states that among 12th grade students in Southern California, the combined current cigarette and e-cigarette use in 2014 was 13.7 percent, which was greater than 2004, when cigarette use was 9 percent (before e-cigarettes were available).
New FDA Measures
A new rule that includes e-cigarettes took effect on August 8. It regulates the manufacture, import, packaging, labeling, advertising, promotion, sale, and distribution of e-cigarettes.
Among the restrictions to e-cigarettes are the prohibition to sell them to all of those under 18 years of age and to give away samples of e-cigarettes including their components and parts.
However, the FDA did not ban the different flavors of e-cigarettes, and its spokespeople said that they would consider future regulation related to flavors based on a further study about the health risks and benefits of vaping.