It’s been just under a month since the Food and Drug Administration banned companies from producing or selling flavored e-cigarettes in an effort to reduce the soaring increase in youth tobacco use, and teens have already found a loophole.
The FDA policy, led by the Trump administration, bars the sale of any refillable e-cigarettes in mint or fruity flavors like mango and watermelon. That includes Juuls, which initially hooked teens with their marketing tactics and for the easily-concealable size, and the ability to swap in new flavor pods when one runs out.
What the ban doesn’t include is disposable e-cigarettes that cannot be refilled, and teens have caught on. According to high schoolers and teachers quoted in The New York Times, they’ve latched on to a disposable brand called Puff Bar, that comes in flavors like strawberry, banana ice and sour apple.
“Students were telling me that everybody had gone to Puff Bars, which are disposable,” Lauren W. Williams, a teacher at McCracken County High School, near Paducah, Ky., told the Times. “Students are not using Juuls anymore because no one wants menthol or tobacco.”
At Roosevelt High School in Seattle, Principal Kristina Rodgers has students telling her that “’Juul’s so yesterday, we’ve moved on,’ ” she told the paper. “Teens are very savvy and if they are addicted, they are going to do what it takes to continue a habit that is now plaguing their lives.”
Teens also like that Puff Bar is cheaper than Juul — each one is $7 to $10, while a Juul would be $35 for the device itself, and then a pack of two pods is $10. Plus, said Bennett Kelly, a high school senior in Costa Mesa, Calif., “They have the most nicotine content.”
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The Trump administration decided on this policy loophole as a concession to e-cigarette sellers and the adult smokers who protested an all-out ban on e-cigarettes. The policy also allows for menthol and tobacco flavored pods, because, as Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said when the ban was announced at the start of the year, those flavors are “less appealing” to kids.
The FDA has previously called the rise in teen tobacco use a “public health tragedy.” In November, findings from the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed that over 5 million middle and high school-aged children use e-cigarettes, with the majority of respondents indicating a preference for cartridge-based products.
Meanwhile, cases of EVALI, the vaping-related lung illness, have hit people of all ages. As of Jan. 21, there have been 2,711 confirmed hospitalizations from the illness and 60 deaths across the U.S., with the youngest being just 15 years old. However, after a peak in cases in September, it has slowed. The CDC says that most cases, 82 percent, occurred in people who used THC-containing products.
The CDC has urged Americans to stop vaping while investigations into the deaths and illnesses continue.
“While this investigation is ongoing, people should consider not using e-cigarette products,” said Dr. Dana Meaney-Delman, incident manager of the CDC’s response to the vaping-related lung injuries. “People who do use e-cigarette products should monitor themselves for symptoms, for example, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea and vomiting — and promptly seek medical attention for any health concerns.”