Teen e-cigarette use, product flavors come under regulatory scrutiny

Gottlieb said Wednesday he believes certain flavors “are one of the principal drivers” of teen use.

“We know that the flavors play an important role in driving the youth appeal,” Gottlieb said. “And in view of the trends underway, we may take steps to curtail the marketing and selling of flavored products. We are actively evaluating how we would implement such a policy.”

E-cigarette manufacturers have touted initiatives they’ve taken to keep their products out of kids’ hands. However, Gottlieb said in his view, they’ve treated these issues “like a public relations challenge rather than seriously considering their legal obligations, the public health mandate and the existential threat to these products.”

Lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have pressed the FDA to do something to control youth use. Despite the criticism he faced, Gottlieb has remained largely supportive of e-cigarettes. But he repeatedly warned companies to seriously address teen use.

“This isn’t our choice alone,” Gottlieb said. “I’ve been warning the electronic cigarette industry for more than a year that they needed to do much more to stem the youth trends. In my view, they treated these issues like a public relations challenge rather than seriously considering their legal obligations, the public health mandate, and the existential threat to these products.”

Under Gottlieb, the FDA has embraced e-cigarettes as a potentially less harmful alternative for adult smokers. As part of Gottlieb’s sweeping plan to overhaul tobacco regulation, he wants to reduce the amount of nicotine in conventional cigarettes to minimally or non-addictive levels. In doing that, Gottlieb recognizes he needs to give people who are already hooked another less harmful option.

“We’re committed to the comprehensive approach to address addiction to nicotine that we announced last year,” Gottlieb said. “But at the same time, we see clear signs that youth use of electronic cigarettes has reached an epidemic proportion, and we must adjust certain aspects of our comprehensive strategy to stem this clear and present danger.”

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