The fact that the FDA commissioner speaks the language of tobacco control on flavors is disturbing. There is no evidence that certain flavors appeal more to teens than adults. And the “flavors are for kids” sloganeering ignores the obvious fact that kids have been initiating nicotine use with unflavored burning tobacco for over a century.
The real impetus for banning flavors is to make regulation of the vaping industry manageable for the FDA. Remember, aside from Evolv, JUUL and a few cigalike manufacturers, the American independent vaping industry is flavors. If regulators can eliminate independent e-liquid producers from the picture (which would also eliminate vape shops), 99 percent of their regulatory and enforcement burden disappears.
Getting rid of the thousands of small businesses that make and sell flavored e-liquid makes vaping simple for the agency to control. Essentially, the FDA Center for Tobacco Products would be left with the tobacco companies, and maybe a small number of independent companies (JUUL, maybe NJOY…who else?) that can afford the cost of playing the tobacco regulators’ games.
Flavors are simply a headache for Gottlieb and CTP director Mitch Zeller. They’re under constant pressure to ban flavors from anti-vaping organizations like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and blowhard politicians like Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer. They don’t mind working with cigarette companies like Altria and RJ Reynolds on vapor regulation, because they know them — and they know that those companies are prepared to play by the FDA’s rules. But the vapor industry…it’s messy.
Meanwhile, states and municipalities already understand that flavors are our achilles heel. Just before San Francisco voters approved a flavor ban earlier this month, Chicago jumped on the bandwagon and proposed its own ban. Others will follow. It’s important to fight each one.
The remaining legal paths to saving these products are all difficult. We need to win in federal court, convince Congress to grandfather existing products or otherwise act to protect e-liquid from prohibition, or pressure the FDA to allow a variety of products to remain on the market.
They’re all difficult and probably unlikely to succeed, but we have to try. Now we have until July 19 to explain to the FDA why flavors are important to us, and show them how many vapers care enough to comment.