Expect another raft of bans
Even before the whole VAPI (Vaping Associated Pulmonary Injury) debacle in the US, briefly covered here, former FDA commissioner was not happy with pod mods. JUUL in particular. On several occasions over the course 2018, Mr Gottlieb was insistent that JUUL alone was the cause of, what he called, an “epidemic” of youth use of e-cigarettes.
While at the FDA, Gottlieb instigated “new” enforcement actions to ‘crack down’ on youth use of JUUL. Admittedly, that ‘crack down’ was mostly aimed at illegal sales of JUUL to minors. FDA performed a nationwide series of undercover investigations of both brick-and-mortar and online retailers. I take no issue with FDA performing such investigations. Our own Trading Standards Agency does the same thing, despite being a fragmented agency. The last time TSA did a mystery shopper style investigation, it was at the behest of the Royal Society for Public Health, which I wrote about at the time over on my own blog.
The thing is, this investigation didn’t just target illegal sales to minors. Nor did it target brick-and-mortar vape stores. Many of the targets that were sent warning letters (and later handed financial penalties) were convenience stores. This is part of the problem.
I’ll freely admit that when I was young, I was easily able to purchase smokes from the local newsagent even though there was a legal age limit. The issue has never been the product, it has always been about compliance and enforcement. Things have gotten better here in the UK, but there is still a problem with underage sales and there always will be. Y’see, kids in my day really did look like kids. Fast forward twenty years and kids of 13 or 14 can easily pass for 17 or 18. Online sales aren’t much better. Kids have a habit of sneaking around and getting into things they shouldn’t. That’s what kids do.
Unfortunately, JUUL did what everyone expected them to do. They folded. Under pressure from the FDA and the various single-issue campaign groups in the US, JUUL pulled its flavoured pods from sale. Naturally, this didn’t go far enough for those in ‘public health’ (hint: it is never wise to appease them – give an inch and all that). Given that recent data shows that mint and menthol flavours are now the most popular JUUL pods.
Well, duh! If you force a company to pull its most popular products from the shelves, those that still want to use the product will simply shift to other options. In this case, those pesky kids that loved Crème, cucumber, mango and fruit flavours will, naturally, shift to those that are left. Mint and menthol are a hell of a lot better tasting than tobacco to many.
So, all the FDA managed to do was consolidate the product from eight flavours to three. Bravo. Idiots. Of course, now that the Trump administration is considering a much broader ban, JUUL once again capitulated and have decided to stop selling its current top seller. The mint pod. But it’ll keep selling menthol and its two tobacco flavours.
Now, Gottlieb is calling on the FDA to comprehensively ban ALL pod-based e-cigarettes – which of course begs the 64-million-dollar question, why didn’t he do that when he was at the FDA?
The problem here is simple. Gottlieb wants all pods gone. Secretary Azar wants ALL flavours gone (as does the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids – their aim, natch, is to kill the industry dead). If both bans go ahead, and there’s already local ordinances being touted for one or the other, then Gottlieb’s comment regarding open-tank systems staying on the market is pie-in-the-sky thinking.
But then, as I covered on my own blog, when Gottlieb made his inaugural speech, he was always going to be after a medicinal approach (complete with the ridiculous idea of “Very Low Nicotine Cigarettes” – you can have a lot of fun on social media spotting the XXII ‘advocates’) along with a heavy handed approach to the open market. Since his speech, calls for flavour bans naturally increased – with JUUL being the prime target (thanks, of course to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and their useful idiot Senator Durbin), and now with the recent VAPI debacle it looks like it is only a matter of time before the likes of Durbin and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids get their way and utterly destroy an industry that has changed the lives of millions of Americans.