Unquestionably, in the States there has been an on-going coordinated attack campaign on the independent vape company Juul Vapour. Organisations like The Truth Initiative and Tobacco Free Kids have been issuing press releases then backing each other up with quotes to journalists.
Finally, after weeks of them piling on the pressure, Gottleib has cracked.
He released a statement through the FDA website that states:
- FDA cites 40 retailers for violations related to youth sales of JUUL e-cigarettes
- Agency announces a new blitz of retail establishments targeting youth sale violations
- Agency takes new action to examine youth appeal of JUUL
- Agency takes steps to foreclose online sales of JUUL to minors
- These are the first steps in a new effort aimed at stopping youth use of e-cigarettes
He writes: “As we work to keep kids from making the deadly progression from experimentation to regular cigarette use, it’s imperative that we also make sure children and teenagers aren’t getting hooked on more novel nicotine-delivery products.”
The position assumes that the people smearing Juul are correct with their research. Given the fact that uptake of vaping in the UK is confined to teens who smoked; it is increasingly difficult to accept the overblown proclamations of a teen crisis in the States.
The next part of the FDA announcement could have come straight from a Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids press release: “The troubling reality is that electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) such as e-cigarettes have become wildly popular with kids. We understand, by all accounts, many of them may be using products that closely resemble a USB flash drive, have high levels of nicotine and emissions that are hard to see. These characteristics may facilitate youth use, by making the products more attractive to children and teens.”
“These products are also more difficult for parents and teachers to recognise or detect. Several of these products fall under the JUUL brand, but other brands, such as myblu and KandyPens, that have similar characteristics are emerging. In some cases, our kids are trying these products and liking them without even knowing they contain nicotine. And that’s a problem, because as we know the nicotine in these products can rewire an adolescent’s brain, leading to years of addiction. For this reason, the FDA must – and will – move quickly to reverse these disturbing trends, and, in particular, address the surging youth uptake of JUUL and other products.”
The “surging uptake” is highlighted by the shocking success of a nationwide FDA operation: “The illegal sale of these JUUL products to minors is concerning. In fact, just since the beginning of March, FDA compliance checks have uncovered 40 violations for illegal sales of JUUL products to youth.”
By its own admission, the FDA “has conducted 908,280 inspections of retail establishments that sell tobacco products.”
From almost a million inspections, in a nation of 327.16 million people, the FDA found just 40 incidents of shady business practice and yet feel compelled to add additional action on top of current legislation. At the same time, the nation that has 132,656 schools is happy to drag its feet to act on the 2018 average of one school shooting per week.
Nobody in the vape community thinks businesses should be allowed to sell products to children. Nobody in the community thinks any company in the independent vape sector is targeting children.
Juul released a statement that said it “agrees with the FDA that illegal sales of our product to minors are unacceptable. We already have in place programs to prevent and, if necessary, identify and act upon these violations at retail and online marketplaces, and we will announce additional measures in the coming days.”
This isn’t good enough for Gottleib.
“It’s clear there’s need for strong federal enforcement of these important youth access restrictions… we also recently contacted eBay to raise concerns over several listings for JUUL products on its website…”
But then, the sale of electronic cigarettes on eBay is already against its terms and conditions. Maybe the FDA and eBay forgot to look at them? Maybe the Gottleib was too busy formulating his letter to Juul?
Be ready for worse news
“We are planning additional enforcement actions focused on companies that we think are marketing products in ways that are misleading to kids. I will have more to say on this in the coming weeks,” continues the statement. While it focuses on companies, the attack campaign has already shifted and is now moving on to flavours – with a new website launched today.
It’s almost impossible to see how Gottleib can marry the FDA’s new position with his final paragraph: “Make no mistake. We see the possibility for ENDS products like e-cigarettes and other novel forms of nicotine-delivery to provide a potentially less harmful alternative for currently addicted individual adult smokers who still want to get access to satisfying levels of nicotine without many of the harmful effects that come with the combustion of tobacco. But we’ve got to step in to protect our kids.”
NNA Sweden was one of the first to comment: “Well, the hype certainly worked. One wonders though, how come policing underage sales to minors (which we all agree on!) seems to be the last of the chosen options. 40 warnings in the entire USA? More shops sell Marlboro to minors per day in Hackensack NJ.”
The FDA’s announcement was welcomed in some quarters. The Smokefree Foundation said: “We commend the U.S. FDA's actions to protect our nation's youth from the dangers of tobacco products. The Foundation does not support youth vaping on any level.”
Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids wrote: “The FDA and Scott Gottlieb have taken important steps to address youth use of Juul e-cigs, but must do more to prevent introduction of kid-friendly tobacco products in the first place.”
Gregory Conley, president of American Vaping Association, said the FDA “was essentially forced into action by a finely orchestrated public-relations campaign designed to demonise Juul and its products. All things considered, Commissioner Gottlieb’s statement was measured, but the true test will be what the agency does on this subject going forward.”
Cynthia Cabrera, independent vape industry consultant: “No one disputes the products are meant for adult smokers. The rest of this thing is like a bad version of the Groundhogs Day movie. Incorrect info repeated over and over and over. And over. And over...”
Public health commentator Jeff Stier said: “If youth use is as widespread as has been reported, the FDA should take responsibility and do a better job of cracking down on the bad-actors, not responsible manufacturers of lower-risk products like Juul, which does not market to youth.”
What remains clear is that Gottleib has been spineless, ignoring evidence to the contrary, and gone down a path that supports tobacco companies by attacking a responsible independent operator. The ultimate losers in this will be current smokers who have a great product denied to them in its current form, by the soon-to-be renamed Furthering Death for All.