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Flawed New FDA E-Cigarette Policy Should be Reversed by Incoming Commissioner

Outgoing Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb released a new policy last month aimed at addressing the increase in teen smoking. The FDA claims the recent spike in teen smoking is directly correlated with teenager’s ability to access e-cigarettes and vaporized products that produce “fruity flavors.”

We can all agree that smoking is bad for one’s health, especially for teens who are still developing physically and cognitively. Given the seriousness of this issue, our government should focus on real solutions based on scientific data. Unfortunately, that is the exact opposite approach of the FDA’s new e-cigarette policy.

When you take a closer look at the proposed guidelines, it becomes apparent that this new policy not only demonstrates the classic example of a government overreach but, furthermore, is not supported by scientific data or research.

The new FDA policy allows vape and tobacco shops and online stores to continue selling fruity flavors, under an assumption that they are better than other retail locations, like convenience stores, at enforcing age restriction policies. But the FDA has provided no evidence to support this assumption, even though it is the crux of their argument for this rule change.

In fact, based on a recent study, more teens acquire their e-cigarettes and vaporizers from vape and tobacco stores than from grocery stores and convenience stores combined.

This study also highlights another huge flaw in the FDA’s new policy. The survey data shows that nearly 70% of teens don’t even get their e-cigarette products from a retail location.

Teens often gain access to these products by buying e-cigarettes from another person, giving money to someone else to buy e-cigarettes, or receiving an e-cigarette as a gift. Those avenues together equal over 45% of the ways teens acquire the products.

The data shows that of the teens who did buy their own e-cigarette products from a retail location, 86.8% of the locations they purchased the products at are not covered under the FDA policy.

Ironically, the survey that Commissioner Gottlieb has used to promote this new FDA guideline, the 2018 U.S. National Youth Tobacco Survey, also shows just how ineffective it will be.

For example, the three flavors that are exempt from the restrictions in the new FDA policy are tobacco, menthol, and mint. These are also the flavors that over 80% of teens who responded to the survey chose.

In total, less than 2% of teens will be “prevented” from using their traditional source of acquiring e-cigarette products. That is assuming they do not transition to other locations or online, retail locations that are much more likely to sell these products to minors.

So, what are we trading off for this burdensome policy that may actually increase teenage use of e-cigarettes?

First off, adults who are using newly banned flavors to help them quit smoking are going to have increased difficulty in accessing these products. This is especially true in lower-income and urban areas where convenience and corner stores serve as de facto grocery stores where food and other staples are purchased.

In addition, during the FDA’s rollout of this policy, Commissioner Gottlieb openly admitted that e-cigarettes and vape products are key tools in helping adults quit smoking. Furthermore, transitioning smokers to electronic cigarettes also provides a huge public health benefit.

There are economic repercussions to this policy as well. Local convenience stores, for example, who are priced out of being able to sell these products due to the nature of this new policy will inevitably lose business. The government is not only forcing local stores to give up this source of income but are also providing an incentive for the convenience store customers to go to other businesses, like vape and tobacco shops. Essentially, the FDA is picking winners and losers in the marketplace.

Unfortunately, when it comes to addressing the real problem of increased teen smoking, the new FDA policy is providing an ineffective solution that could cause more harm than good.

Thankfully, we have an opportunity to speak out against this policy. The new FDA Commissioner, Ned Sharpless, still has to be confirmed by the Senate. Conservatives like Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) hold significant weight within the conservative movement, should use their platforms to highlight how misguided this FDA e-cigarette policy is and show that the American people will not mistake action for progress.

Matt Mackowiak is president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Strategy Group. He’s a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators.

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