New Report: E-Cigarettes in Kid-Friendly Flavors Remain Widely Available
While youth e-cigarette use has declined from record-high levels reached in 2019, it remains a serious public health problem. According to the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey, over 2 million middle and high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the first half of 2021, even as many schools remained closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey underscored that flavored products are driving youth use as 85 percent of youth e-cigarette users report using flavored products, with fruit, candy/desserts/other sweets, mint, and menthol reported as the most popular flavors. Indicating the addictiveness of the products now dominating the market, 43.6 percent of high school e-cigarette users report frequent use (on at least 20 days a month) and 27.6 percent report daily use.
However, three months after a court-ordered deadline for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to decide what e-cigarette products can stay on the market, FDA delays have left e-cigarettes in kid-friendly flavors widely available across the country, according to a new report released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
E-cigarette manufacturers were required to submit marketing applications to the FDA by Sept. 9, 2020, and products that were the subject of timely applications were allowed to stay on the market for up to a year while the FDA reviewed the applications, a period that expired Sept. 9, 2021. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and other public health groups have urged the FDA to deny marketing applications for all flavored e-cigarettes because of the clear evidence that flavored products have fueled an epidemic of youth e-cigarette use and nicotine addiction.
To assess the impact of the FDA’s actions to date on the availability of flavored e-cigarettes, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids conducted a scan of five top online e-cigarette retailers and 43 brick-and-mortar stores in eight cities across the U.S. (Denver; Detroit; Los Angeles; Portland, Maine; Portland, Oregon; Seattle; Tempe, Arizona; and Washington, D.C.). This scan provides a snapshot of the current e-cigarette market and is not intended to be a representative sample of stores nationwide or online. Key findings include:
- Kid-friendly flavored e-cigarettes and nicotine e-liquids are still widely available online and in stores. Across the five websites assessed, over 100 flavored e-cigarette products remain available for sale. Many websites continue to sell products in egregious, kid-friendly flavors like Gummy Bear, Berry Crunch Cereal, and Blueberry Lemonade. Retail assessments in the 43 stores surveyed demonstrate that flavored e-cigarettes also remain widely available in stores across the country.
- The best-selling e-cigarette brands are still available for sale online and in stores.
- The most popular e-cigarette brands among youth are still available online and in stores in flavors that appeal to youth, including menthol.
- Disposable e-cigarettes in an array of kid-friendly flavors remain widely available online and in stores. These include Puff Bar, which is sold in nearly two dozen flavors including Strawberry Banana, Cool Mint, Blue Razz, and Lemon Ice.
The report calls for the following actions to protect kids and public health:
- The FDA must act quickly on all remaining e-cigarette applications and deny authorization to all flavored e-cigarettes, including menthol-flavored products. The FDA should also deny applications for products with high nicotine levels that put kids at risk of addiction.
- The FDA must take enforcement action against products that remain on the market illegally. Robust surveillance and enforcement efforts are needed to ensure that e-cigarette products that have received marketing denial orders are no longer available in stores or online and no new products are introduced without prior FDA authorization.
- The FDA must take action against synthetic nicotine products and prevent companies like Puff Bar from evading regulation and continuing to market flavored e-cigarettes to kids.
- States and cities must continue their growing efforts to end the sale of all flavored e-cigarettes, as well as other flavored tobacco products. State and local action is as critical as ever given the uncertainty about what the FDA will do and when, the legal challenges to FDA actions and the efforts of e-cigarette manufacturers to evade FDA regulation with synthetic nicotine.