Makhmud Makhmudov started vaping at age 17 using fruit flavors to quit the cigarettes he’d been smoking since 14.
The Springboro teenager, now 19, is the type of person the Food and Drug Administration said the electronic smoking industry is targeting with marketing and flavored products.
This week, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said his agency is considering banning all flavored e-cigarette products from the market. In a letter released Wednesday, Gottlieb declared teenagers’ use of e-cigarettes an “epidemic of addiction.”
“The disturbing and accelerating trajectory of use we’re seeing in youth, and the resulting path to addiction, must end,” he said.
The electronic smoking devices became popular several years ago to help adult smokers quit cigarettes by using e-liquids that contain nicotine but not tobacco, and others that don’t contain nicotine.
Riverside Vapor Haus customer, 29-year-old Karissa Shambaugh of Dayton, said she and her husband quit smoking cigarettes — a habit she picked up when she was 13 or 14 —thanks to the flavors.
“Neither of us could really breathe that well ever; going up flights of stairs was a struggle. And we’re young, so that’s not okay,” Shambaugh said. “I can breathe better, I taste all my food again…I don’t smell anymore.”
But the vapes have become popular among a younger generation, specifically teenagers who are attracted to the strawberry, cotton candy and tutti frutti flavors. A U.S. Surgeon General report shows that use of e-cigs among high school students increased 900 percent between 2011 and 2015.
“The FDA won’t tolerate a whole generation of young people becoming addicted to nicotine as a tradeoff for enabling adults to have unfettered access to these same products,” Gottlieb said.
Sgt. Don Wilson, the head DARE officer at Spingboro schools, said he’s seen students use the devices and his school has rules in place that ban them from school property.
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“Although it’s been marketed as an alternative, you’re still putting a drug in your body, you’re still putting yourself at risk,” Wilson said.
The FDA sent warning letters Wednesday to 12 national companies that advertise e-liquids that resemble juice boxes and candies, a marketing method the agency has banned because they said it targets children. Several of those companies were also cited for selling products to minors.
The FDA has also tried to crack down on stores that sell the product to teenagers under 18. More than 1,300 warning letters went out to stores for the illegal sale of e-cigs to minors this summer in the largest single enforcement action in the FDA’s history.
Of those, 11 stores were in Ohio. All Buckeye State recipients were gas stations or convenience stores and drive throughs. Marion’s Grand Slam Drive Thru in Middletown was sent a warning letter, according to the FDA.
“If [Gottlieb] eliminates the flavor part out of the industry, it will kill every vape shop in the United States,” said James Jarvis, president of Ohio Vapor Trade Association. “We are concerned with youth access. The problem is they are not getting it from vape shops.”
Vapor Haus, with eight locations in the Dayton area, checks the ID of every purchaser that looks to be under 40, co-owner Chris Voudris said, adding that online sales directly from manufacturers are the biggest way minors are getting the products.
The FDA is requiring that five major manufacturers with a combined 97 percent of the e-cigarette market make plans to address the use of products by minors within 60 days.
Those changes could range from changing marketing campaigns to removing all flavored e-cig products from the market online and in stores until they receive premarket authorization. The agency had previously given the manufacturers a grace period until 2022 for e-cig products that were already on the market until they submitted applications for FDA review.
“If you take away vaping, it doesn’t mean people are going to stop,” Makhmudov said. “They’re going to find something else.”
Makhmudov said he’s not worried about nicotine because there are health concerns with certain foods and other products people consume every day.
But Wilson said he is worried about the new methods of consuming nicotine threatening the progress of declining cigarette use among teenagers over the last several years.
“If you’re introducing something into your body that isn’t really supposed to be there, then that’s going to cause a major effect — such as nicotine,” Wilson said.
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