Democrats are pressing federal regulators to crack down on the flavors available in electronic cigarettes and other smoking alternatives.
Congressional Democrats are circulating a petition asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban artificial flavors in e-cigarettes, a popular quitting tool, and cigars. Rep. Diana DeGette (D., Colo.) joined Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) and other liberal members of Congress to urge FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb to take quick action to curb cigarette alternatives. The letter pointed to the existence of "chocolate and cotton candy" flavors as proof the cigar and vape industries are marketing to children. Flavors, they say, risk attracting new users among young people and create nicotine addictions even without tobacco.
"FDA must move quickly to ban flavored e-cigarettes and cigars or it risks letting a new generation of young Americans develop an addiction to nicotine, which could undermine their health," DeGette said in an email to colleagues. "Using flavored tobacco products in adolescence can be detrimental to a child’s health."
E-cigarette enthusiasts say limiting the scope of flavors for vaporizers can hinder efforts for current smokers to quit. Tony Abboud, executive director of the Vapor Technology Association, an industry trade group, said that targeting products that do not contain tobacco, such as e-cigarettes, vaporizers, and nicotine inhalers, sends the wrong message to current smokers. Part of the appeal of switching from cigarettes to vaporizers, which heat up liquid nicotine but contain no tobacco, is that there is a greater variety of flavors. His group is now working to supply the agency with scientific studies that counter DeGette's message about the risks of e-cigarettes.
"Flavors themselves can help people to quit smoking," Abboud told the Washington Free Beacon. "We are making sure the FDA has the correct information to make an informed decision.…This is a dynamic time, there's no question about it. This commissioner has an opportunity to do something historic."
Great Britain has seen great success after government regulators embraced e-cigarettes. More than 1.6 million of the nation's 9 million smokers quit tobacco using vapes. Gottlieb is spearheading an effort to lower nicotine levels in traditional cigarettes in the hopes of lowering their addictive potential. He indicated in 2017 that the FDA looks at cigarettes with the same level of concern it has for heroin and other opioids, but added that he could be open to exploring alternatives, such as tobacco-free or reduced-tobacco products.
"I also hope that we can all see the potential benefits to addicted cigarette smokers, in a properly regulated marketplace, of products capable of delivering nicotine without having to set tobacco on fire," Gottlieb said. "The prospective benefit may be even greater for the subset of current cigarette smokers who find themselves unable or unwilling to quit."
Abboud said he is pleased with Gottlieb's openness to harm reduction, a school of thought that values tobacco alternatives in the quest to lower traditional cigarette smoking.
"We finally have an FDA commissioner that is looking at how to address new levels of innovation in the vapor industry," Abboud said. "He is the first person in our government to speak clearly about the actual potential for harm reduction that our products have."