The Food and Drug Administration announced a new regulation for e-cigarette companies this month that has received a split reaction from students and faculty at the University of Minnesota.
The Sept. 12 order declared that e-cigarette manufacturers, like Juul Labs, had 60 days to prove that they could successfully keep their devices away from minors. Failure to comply could result in the removal of products from the market and charges against e-cigarette vendors.
Some e-cigarette student users expressed disapproval of the regulation, but it was largely embraced by University faculty with expertise on the health effects of vaping.
“The use of e-cigarettes among teens is truly out of proportion,” said Irina Stepanov, a University professor in environmental health sciences. “Hopefully these measures will have the power to stop the spread of use of these products by youth.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigarettes were regularly used by about 1.7 million high school students and 390,000 middle school students in the U.S. in 2017.
Vaping, although not as damaging as traditional cigarettes, can still elevate harm when it comes to the health of youth, said Sherri Katz, a University professor who researches e-cigarettes.
“Keeping e-cigarettes out of the hands of youth is an important aspect of tobacco regulation,” Katz said. “The nicotine gets a lot of attention, but there’s a concern about the effect on the brain development of young teens and adolescents ... there has been lead found in some of them, and certainly cancer-causing agents.”
One of the greatest worries in the scientific community regarding vaping is that its long-term health effects are yet to be fully understood, said Silvia Balbo, a University professor who co-authored a research paper on e-cigarettes with Stepanov.
“We cannot wait 30 years to see the effects of e-cigarettes,” she said. “We have to do something now.”
Another concern that prompted the FDA’s order is the idea that vaping serves as a gateway drug to the use of other tobacco products. University researchers and students disputed on the validity of this claim.
“Right now, millions of kids are at risk of being lifetime ... nicotine-dependent individuals, and there’s the potential of moving to other nicotine delivery devices or products such as cigarettes,” Stepanov said. “The potential for the gateway is real, and there’s studies showing that it can happen.”
Madeline Barkholtz, a junior studying animal science, disagreed, saying that she would never transition from vaping to smoking traditional cigarettes.
“I would never smoke a [traditional] cigarette,” she said as she took a puff from an e-cigarette. “They’re gross. And I’m allergic. Even if I wasn’t, they’re disgusting.”
Rodney Williams, a University student studying information technology who uses e-cigarettes, said the FDA regulation is unnecessary because minors will be able to get their hands on e-cigarettes regardless of government efforts to prevent it.
“The establishments that are already doing the ID checking and stuff shouldn’t be threatened to get shut down just because they can’t prove [they can keep e-cigarettes away from minors],” he said. “Minors will always find a way to get something that they’re not supposed to get, no matter how regulated the government … might try to make things.”
Faculty acknowledged that, despite the potential harm to youth, e-cigarettes also provide certain benefits for long-time tobacco smokers.
Many adults who are addicted to traditional cigarettes have begun to transition towards the safer e-cigarettes, something that will have positive health effects, Katz said.
“My general ... hope is that the FDA can find a way to give a space for these types of products to be used successfully for those trying to quit traditional cigarettes, but making sure that they are not used by youth,” she said.