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FDA targeting cheap knockoffs of popular Juul e-cigarettes in latest effort to curb vaping among teens

Kentucky Health News

Cheap knock-offs of the Juul electronic cigarettes popular with teens have been showing up in stores and online, “despite a U.S. Food and Drug Administration rule banning the sale of new e-cigarette products after August 2016 without regulatory approval,” Chris Kirkham reports for Reuters.

A used package of Juul cartridges, found on a
Frankfort sidewalk. (Photo by Al Cross)

The FDA applied the August 2016 deadline to new e-cigarette products, while older devices are allowed to continue without regulatory approval until 2022.

“Start-ups and major tobacco firms have launched more than a dozen new high-nicotine devices with Juul-like designs since the FDA imposed the deadline, according to Reuters review’ of the companies’ online advertisements, social media posts and public statements,” Kirkham writes.

Earlier this month the FDA threatened to ban Juul and four other vaping-product companies unless they took steps to prevent use by minors, but Kirkham reports that other companies have flooded the market with Juul copycats with no regulatory consequences.

The FDA told Reuters that it was looking into whether certain brands were being improperly sold and plans to take “additional action on this front very soon,” focusing on products with high nicotine concentrations and flavors that apparently target youth.

Teens love these products because they are small and look like a computer USB drive, making it easy for them to hide them from parents and teachers. They also come in flavors that appeal to teens and pack a powerful nicotine punch. One Juul pod has the nicotine content of about 20 cigarettes, which is the number in a traditional pack.

Health experts have voiced concern that these high-nicotine products are creating lifelong addictions in young people and will erode decades of progress in reducing youth tobacco use.

FDA Twitter graphic on efforts it’s taking to shut
down the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes to minors. (Click for larger image)

According to the national Youth Behavioral Risk Survey, smoking among high school students declined from 15.8 percent in 2011 to 7.6 percent in 2017, but e-cigarette use grew from 1.5 percent to 11.5 percent over the same period.

In Kentucky, traditional smoking rates and e-cigarette rates have both been on the decline since the Kentucky YBRS started asking about e-cig usage in 2015.

In 2017, about the same number of Kentucky high-school students reported using e-cigarettes as traditional ones, 14 percent. This was down from 23.4 percent and 17 percent respectively in 2015.

That said, it looks like more Kentucky teens are trying e-cigs than traditional cigarettes these days. In 2017, about 45 percent of Kentucky’s high-school students said they had ever used an electronic vapor product, compared to about 41 percent who had ever smoked cigarettes.

Health officials have warned that e-cigarette use is likely much higher among teens than reported in 2017, because those numbers don’t reflect the surge in Juul sales.

Anti-smoking advocates have called for Kentucky schools and locales to enact 100 percent smoke-free laws that include e-cigarettes and for state officials to tax e-cigarette devices and their liquids at the same rate as conventional tobacco products as a way to address this uptick in teen use of these products.

Another concern is that teens are using Juul and the knockoff devices to smoke marijuana because their design allows a person to replace the liquid nicotine with liquid marijuana or other concentrated marijuana products or be “hacked” to allow for such products. And because there is no odor, this allows a user to smoke it anywhere without others knowing what’s inside.

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