ST. GEORGE — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is planning to crack down on electronic cigarettes with several steps to combat vaping among teens and children.
As early as next week, FDA officials said they plan on requiring strict limits on the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes, including age verification controls for online sales.
The FDA already bans sales of e-cigarettes and tobacco products to those under 18. In Utah, that age is 19.
The new FDA policy will apply to flavored cartridge-style vaping products like those made by Juul that have become popular among teens, not the open tank-style systems sold in vape shops and mostly used by adults, officials said. No retail outlets will be allowed to carry them unless it restricts minors from entering the store or creates an off-limits area.
The shift comes two months after the FDA called the problem of teen vaping an “epidemic” while ordering five major electronic cigarette manufacturers to reverse the trend or risk having their flavored vaping products pulled from the market.
Flavors like those based on bubblegum, cotton candy or colorful fruits are attractive to teens, so putting limits on flavored vape juices is a step in the right direction, said Kye Nordfelt, health promotions director for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department.
“These flavors are sometimes flashy with bright colors or cartoon characters,” Nordfelt told St. George News. “One of the key reasons teens start vaping is because of these flavors, so I think the FDA is making a fantastic step.”
Juul, the nation’s leading e-cigarette maker, also recently announced it will be halting store sales of some flavors to deter use by teens.
In a statement, Juul said it stopped filling store orders Tuesday for mango, fruit, creme and cucumber pods and will resume sales only to retailers that scan IDs and take other steps to verify a buyer is at least 21.
All flavors will still be sold through its website.
“Obviously, Juul saw the writing on the wall,” Nordfelt said. “They knew they were going to have to do it eventually, so they just decided to start doing it now.”
The company also announced it would close its Facebook and Instagram social media accounts, and pledged other steps to make it clear that it doesn’t want kids using its e-cigarettes.
Its products are meant to help adult smokers quit regular cigarettes, CEO Kevin Burns said in a statement.
“We don’t want anyone who doesn’t smoke, or already use nicotine, to use Juul products,” Burns said. “We certainly don’t want youth using the product. It is bad for public health and it is bad for our mission.”
Even though private companies and the government are starting to finally take some steps to fight the use of e-cigarettes among teens, Nordfelt said there is still much that can be done.
E-cigarettes are not taxed as heavily as tobacco products in Utah, which Nordfelt said is something that should be changed.
“We can tax e-cigarettes as a regular tobacco product,” he said. “If we do that, e-cigarettes won’t be as cheap and we’d see decreases in youth use as well. Teenagers are very price-sensitive, so we can price them out of the market.”
The Washington County Teen Coalition is also an important part of the fight against teen vaping in Southern Utah, Nordfelt said.
The group comprises 25 high school students in Washington County who help educate their peers about the dangers of vaping and substance abuse.
“They’re continuing to work in classrooms in all the schools in Washington County to educate their peers on the dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping,” Nordfelt said. “This week, they’re going into health classes to talk to students about this.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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