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The FDA Considers The Benefit Of Vaping For Adults, Over The Risk Of Teen Addiction

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to make a big decision today about the future of e-cigarettes. The agency has already blocked the sale of some flavored vaping products, which are popular with teenagers. The question in front of regulators is whether the benefit of e-cigarettes for adult users trying to quit smoking outweighs the risk of addiction for teens.

NPR's Allison Aubrey joins us this morning. Hi, Allison.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Explain exactly what action the FDA is expected to take today.

AUBREY: Sure. Well, Rachel, many people know the brand name Juul. But there are hundreds of other companies that market e-cigarette products. And many teenagers and young adults continue to use them. Now, companies have known for a while that the FDA was in the process of reviewing their products to determine if they could stay on the market. But this process was going slowly, so advocacy groups sued the FDA. Bottom line - the court gave the FDA one year to make some decisions. That one year is up as of today.

Here's Matt Myers. He's president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

MATT MYERS: Today FDA is required to look at each product to determine whether the continued marketing of that product will continue to put kids at risk.

AUBREY: And whether the product can help adults who smoke quit - but Myers points to a 2020 Surgeon General report that concludes there's just not enough evidence to make a determination.

MARTIN: So let's back up a step. The original justification for e-cigarettes is that they were less harmful - right? - than smoking...

AUBREY: That's right.

MARTIN: ...Regular cigarettes, and they might even help smokers quit. Now the concern is that the rise of vaping led millions of young people to start using nicotine.

AUBREY: That's exactly it. And once they start, it's really hard to stop because nicotine, whether it's in a cigarette or a vape stick, is very addictive. The e-cigarette maker Juul says it is trying to combat underage usage now. The company says it's focused on harm reduction for adult smokers. Now, data shows sales have been ticking up again.

And Matt Myers argues now is the time for the FDA to take decisive action.

MYERS: Over 80% of kids who use e-cigarettes use flavored products. Eliminating those products would be the most significant thing you could do to reverse the youth e-cigarette epidemic.

AUBREY: He says he'd also like to see the FDA remove products that deliver much higher levels of nicotine compared to cigarettes.

MARTIN: So is that a possibility - the FDA could just take some products off the market?

AUBREY: Yes, absolutely. The agency is likely to continue to crack down on the flavored products. They've already denied applications for companies that market flavors such as apple crumble, cinnamon toast crunch - clearly designed to appeal to kids. But it's unclear what the agency will do about menthol, which is very popular. Now, Juul markets a menthol product. And many health organizations have asked the FDA to reject Juul's application.

Here is Erika Sward of the American Lung Association.

ERIKA SWARD: We would oppose any Juul product remaining on the market. The history and their actions are clear, that they're interested in addicting a new generation. And no Juul product, whether it be tobacco flavored or menthol flavored, should be allowed to remain on the market.

AUBREY: Now, the FDA could announce its decision any time now, Rachel.

MARTIN: All right. We'll be watching for that. NPR's Allison Aubrey, thank you.

AUBREY: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.