“Within days of FDA’s announced ‘historic’ crackdown on vaping device manufacturers and retailers, over what the agency says is their role in fostering an epidemic of youth e-cigarette use,” writes Stafford, “the agency launched its most aggressive public awareness campaign to-date.”
Advocate Schell Hammel reacted to FDA’s recent actions: “It’s the age-old issue of new products and teen issues. I absolutely think that we need an answer for it as it has become a problem.”
Hammel conceded that there is an issue to be addressed: “I believe ‘epidemic’ is a strong word to use, I’m a little torn on the language. I do see an increase; I think everybody sees an increase, in the pod-style vaping devices. We’ve seen it in our schools; we’ve seen it in our neighbourhoods.”
“We absolute have to do something about it but I’m not sure that removing flavours is the answer. The novelty of it is the issue.”
She believes talking is the solution: “We have to have a conversation with our retail shop owners. This has to be a dialogue, but we need to take ownership of it from all sides: parents need to engage their teens [about smoking, nicotine and vaping], we need to speak to the convenience stores [about this issue and identifying minors] – we need to do our best to have policies and procedures in place to help keep this at bay.”
Hammel spoke about how the recent statement from Scott Gottlieb implies that the FDA is going to sacrifice adult smokers and vapers in order to save the children from “a lifetime of nicotine addiction”. She thinks there’s “a happy medium” and it shouldn’t be an either/or option.
The answer, for the trade bodies she represents, is education: “SFATA and AEMSA are coming together to produce an education program. We saw the necessity for this type of program within our youth, just because it’s an issue we all need to address in a pro-active manner.”
The program will include a website, education for parents, how to identify if youths are experimenting with them, and suggestions for opening a dialogue. The scientific studies on vaping, “its effects on the developing brain”.
“We are also going to be working on a ‘We Care’ program for retail shops,” she continued. “The aim is to educate them on how to identify minors and the different policies they can put in place to ensure that unintentional sales don’t happen.”
As she raised the subject of nicotine impacting the development of teen brains, something the FDA is very keen to push, she was asked if she’d seen scientific studies to support that position. Hammel was reluctant to answer the question and pressed the point that she is not a scientist, focussing then on how vaping is safer than smoking and that nicotine has similar impact on the body to caffeine.
When asked about the FDA’s ‘vape worm’ series of ads targeted at teens, she said: “I don’t find it accurate, it doesn’t reflect the science I’ve seen.”
Before adding: “I’m torn; if it is their intent to push teens away from vaping then I think that as a minor that would make me pause – but I have many adults that come up to me and go ‘you know that’s worse for you than smoking’, and I don’t want it to dissuade adult smokers from using this as an alternative.”
Hammel mentioned that SFATA has studies demonstrating zero-levels of formaldehyde being released from atomisers. In which case, some may find it disappointing she didn’t hit the FDA marketing campaign harder.
In many ways her words concede ground to the FDA and legitimise its claims, most of which are farcical, and by doing so makes the job of other advocates harder.