Prior to announcing his termination last week, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb had made the end of the teenagers a central target for his term of office. Specifically, to eliminate what he often calls an "epidemic", regulators have not only exaggerated the scale of the problem but also threatened retailers with regulatory implications. The source of the problem is elsewhere.
For e-cigarette opponents eager to protect children, there is no regulatory burden too large to impose. On Wednesday, Gottlieb made its promise of "powerful enforcement measures" against tobacco dealers selling to underage customers. He announced a draft compliance policy with these expectations: "Some flavors of e-cigarette products will no longer be sold … other flavors of e-cigarette products that continue to be sold will only be sold in a way that prevents young people from accessing … some flavoring cigarettes will no longer be sold. "
Last week, Gottlieb set the scene by calling the management of Walgreens as well as other national petrol stations and grocery stores such as Exxon, 7-Eleven and Walmart . Using hard language, he described the FDA's "boots-to-ground presence across the country" and noted "the historic milestone of implementing … one million tobacco retail inspections" since 201
Federal data reveals important information, which, however, conflicts with the FDA Communication and the notion that teen weapons is a major problem. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2017 National Youth Tobacco Survey shows that only about 12 percent of US high school students used e-cigarettes in the past month. Although the CDC & # 39; s observation – based on unpublished data – is correct about a weapon boost in 2018, it does not confirm an epidemic. Nearly 70 percent of students who vamp – but do not smoke – used e-cigarettes five days or less during this 30-day period, a pattern called "party" or "weekend" vaping, not regular daily consumption.
Another federal investigation called "Future Monitoring" reveals several critical teen epidemics: alcohol and marijuana use. 30 percent of primary school seniors use alcohol, and 18 percent report being full in the last month. Similarly, 22 percent of the students report using marijuana – a level that has been stable since 1995. Unlike vaping, which is considered 95 percent safer than smoking and does not affect judgment or inhibition, teens die too often from accidents related to marijuana and alcohol consumption.
Despite FDA's clue to retailers, only a small fraction of American teens who have used e-cigarettes have bought them alone. The FDA's own survey data supports this. The Tobacco and Health Population Assessment (or PATH) study collects detailed information on the use of teen tobacco. It reveals that fewer than 10 percent of current teen e-cigarette users – largely defined as having taken at least one puff in the last 30 days – "bought themselves." In short, most teenagers do not get e-cigarettes from retailers willing to break the law for an extra buck. Instead, they get e-cigarettes the old-fashioned way – through friends.
What is particularly egregious about FDA's exaggeration is that it is based on data profiling. The FDA claimed that 22 percent of Walgreens stores engaged in illegal sales of tobacco products to minors since 2010; and 14 other national retail chains had infringements of 15 percent -44 percent. However, these extremely large numbers are the result of cumulative mathematics over a nine-year period. A closer look at the data shows that there was a 12 percent violation rate nationally in 2018 – only 1 percent higher than in 2015-2016. And Walgreens' rate was 9 percent, three points lower than the national average.
While the FDA is obsessed with e-cigarettes, only 19 percent of the over 17,500 quoted offenses in 2018 involved these products, a distant third of cigars (44 percent) and cigarettes (33 percent). The focus on retailers also ignores the great variation in state infringement rates, from Georgia (2.2 percent), Montana (2.7 percent), Hawaii (3 percent) and California (4.2 percent) all the way to North Dakota, Michigan, Ohio. and Nevada at 23 percent.
The FDA should also recognize different state rates and what some states are already doing to limit minors. Seven have adopted laws raising the minimum age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21. This type of regulation – like a law passed in Virginia last month – solves teenage hijacking by interrupting the informal black market in colleges. Right now, 14 percent of American high school students are 18 or older. They can legally buy tobacco products and serve as the main source for all other high schoolers. While Tobacco 21 will not remove juvenile delinquency, it creates another barrier for underage users. Anti-alcohol use is still a problem, but Alcohol 21 has played a role in reducing the incidence by almost half. Tobacco 21 does not restrict adult smokers access to life-saving, smoke-free cigarette alternatives.
We all want teenagers to have a healthy lifestyle, but federal and state policies should be guided by facts, not by hyperbolic statements. A management change at the FDA (Gottlieb will leave in a month) opens the way to rethink the regulatory approach to e-cigarettes. If we focus on sensible solutions, rather than cumbersome rules, everyone, especially adult smokers, will benefit.