While the tobacco industry awaits the official new regulations impacting the e-cigarette market, details of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) proposal are already beginning to leak–and the e-cigarette manufacturers and retailers should brace for impact.
According to reports from several news outlets, the FDA is expected to ban the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes in convenience and gas stations, the retail outlets that have seen increasing profits from e-cigarettes as vaping and manufacturers like JUUL Labs Inc. have grown in popularity among those looking to quit smoking traditional combustible tobacco products. The consequence of any gain in the market, however, are those unintended reactions, which in the case of e-cigarettes and vaping is its popularity with young consumers, including minors.
E-cigarette use and nicotine addiction among minors has been a major concern of the FDA in 2018 and has driven most of its actions against the tobacco industry this year. There have been warning letters issued against retailers, manufacturers and additional scrutiny given towards e-cigarettes in the U.S. Products have been pulled [read more here] and marketing practices questioned [read more here], leading to what could be a potentially devastating blow to not just e-cigarette manufacturers but retailers and end-consumers as well, who will have to go through extra steps to get their products.
The FDA will not outright ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes but is also said to be considering a requirement that anyone buying e-cigarette products online to undergo stricter age verification processes. This move will undoubtedly be challenged by vapor and e-cigarette manufacturers and advocates who will argue that the sales restrictions will make it harder for adult consumers to have access to the products they want and could encourage the rise of black markets for these products. It could also make it difficult for adult consumers who choose e-cigarettes as a way to stop using combustible tobacco products and find flavors useful during that transition.
The FDA considered going further with its ban and applying it to menthol and mint flavors as well, but is said to have felt that move would have encouraged consumers to instead use menthol cigarettes instead. In recent interviews, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb acknowledged that adult consumers would be impacted by the FDA’s move to curb teenage vaping and e-cigarette use. Restricting access to smoking alternatives is a price that the FDA is willing to pay in its efforts to address the popularity and increasing use of e-cigarette products among minors.
As a response to the expected flavor restrictions, e-cigarette manufacturer JUUL Labs Inc. has already announced that it will be pulling some of its flavored products from brick-and-mortar retailers [read more here]. This will be a costly move with flavored e-cigarette products accounting for over half of the company’s sales. Those retailers who have found e-cigarette products like JUUL’s flavored pods will also be negatively impacted by any flavor ban of e-cigarettes with the sale of traditional combustible tobacco products being on a steady decline. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking in the U.S. was down to just 14 percent in 2017, making new product categories like e-cigarettes and vaping crucial to tobacco manufacturers and retailers.
The FDA is expected to make formal announcements about e-cigarettes, flavors and menthol as early as mid-November 2018.
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