The Food and Drug Administration is banning most fruit- and mint-flavored nicotine vaping products in an effort to curb a surge in teen use, the agency said Thursday.
Under the new rule, which takes effect in 30 days, companies that do not stop the distribution the sweeter flavors that appeal to kids risk enforcement action, the FDA said. Companies are also at risk of regulatory action if their products target kids or if they fail to take "adequate measures" to prevent access to children. They'll still be able to sell tobacco and menthol-flavored pods for the adults who use the products to quit smoking.
"The United States has never seen an epidemic of substance use arise as quickly as our current epidemic of youth use of e-cigarettes," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement Thursday.
"HHS is taking a comprehensive, aggressive approach to enforcing the law passed by Congress, under which no e-cigarettes are currently on the market legally," he said.
The FDA is specifically banning cartridge-based nicotine pods like Juul, allowing vape shops to continue selling tank-based flavored nicotine liquids, which require users to manually fill their pods.
The agency's decision comes amid a rise in teen e-cigarette use and a deadly lung illness linked to vaping that has taken the lives of 55 people across 27 states. The Trump administration originally announced plans to ban flavored e-cigarettes in September, but has delayed issuing its final rule under intense lobbying from the tobacco and vaping industry.
Azar told reporters on a call Thursday that the FDA's decision to permit the continued sale of tobacco and menthol flavors was due to them being "less appealing" to kids. More than half of teenagers who vape use Juul e-cigarettes, and its mint pods were the No. 1 flavor favored by high school kids, according to two studies published in November in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Public health experts have long supported the administration's goal of banning flavors that most appeal to children, but some fear that kids could end up switching to menthol once the fruity flavors are gone.
"Only the elimination of all flavored e-cigarettes can end the worsening youth e-cigarette epidemic and stop e-cigarette companies from luring and addicting kids with flavored products," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said.
The ban has little to do with the vaping-related lung illness, administration officials said Thursday. Azar said the Trump administration sees the lung illness from vaping as a "separate issue" because most people who are sick are thought by public health officials to have smoked THC-based vaping products.
According to the CDC, most lung illness patients have reported vaping THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
"No child should be using nicotine products," officials repeatedly said on the call Thursday.
The ban will have a limited impact on industry leader Juul, which, under intense scrutiny, has already halted the sale of its flavors in the U.S., excluding menthol, Virginia tobacco and classic tobacco. It will likely be a blow to Juul rival, NJOY, which looked to benefit from Juul's flavor retreat with the sale its own blueberry flavors in stores.
The FDA's new rules represent the U.S. government's latest step to combat teen vaping.
Trump signed a law in December that prohibited the sale of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products to people under the age of 21.