Yesterday, the FDA announced it’s cracking down on the illegal sale of Juul–a type of e-cigarettes popular with teens. The agency has sent 40 warning letters to vape shops that sold the devices to teens. The FDA has also targeted the San Francisco-based company itself, asking Juul to produce information on its marketing practices and whether Juul’s design features, ingredients and flavors appeal to teens. The FDA is also requiring Juul to provide the research the company has conducted on the health effects of Juuling.

This is a provocative move on the part of the FDA and will no doubt add to stories in the media speculating about the impact of the e-cigarette industry, and Juul in particular. 

Concern about this new technology is understandable.  Parents are particularly concerned when they read warnings about teens taking up vaping and its potential to serve as a gateway to smoking. 

However, its important for parents to be aware of the measures that are already underway to discourage teen vaping.  There are already federal restrictions that make it illegal to sell e-cigarettes to anyone under 18. Some states even have tougher age restrictions: Alabama, Alaska and Utah have set the legal age at 19, while in California, Hawaii, Maine, and Oregon, you have to be 21 to vape. In addition, many cities, towns and municipalities have banned smoking and vaping for anyone under 21. And there’s little to no push back on those local laws.  E-cigarette manufacturers support these age restrictions, and are working to make sure that distributors comply with keeping these products out of the hands of those who are underage. 

And in spite of what the media (and now the FDA) are suggesting about teen vaping and smoking, the good news is that these efforts are paying off.  Yes, the under-reported story is that teen smoking is at a record low and teen vaping is on the decline. 

In a rare break from generating panicked stories about vaping, The Washington Post even reported the good news in a 2017 story:

Teenagers' use of e-cigarettes fell sharply last year, while overall tobacco use declined to a new low, according to data that some antismoking advocates said could signal a turning point in the decades-long effort against youth smoking.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's annual report on youth and tobacco found that 11.3 percent of high school students used e-cigarettes in 2016, compared with 16 percent the year before. That's the first drop since the CDC started keeping track of e-cigarettes in 2011.

In addition, just 8 percent of high-schoolers smoked cigarettes last year, while a little over 20 percent reported using “any tobacco product,” which includes cigars, hookahs, pipes, smokeless tobacco and small, leaf-wrapped cigarettes called bidis, as well as regular and e-cigarettes. Both those numbers are the lowest on record, the agency said.

“This is unimaginable, extraordinary progress,” said Matthew Myers, president of the nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, noting that almost 30 percent of young people smoked cigarettes in 2000. “This is a change of a cosmic nature that has the potential to dramatically impact lung cancer, heart disease, asthma and other problems.”

Despite this good news about teen smoking (and the data to back it up!), anti-smoking activists have worked overtime to create the sense that there is a crisis in teen smoking and vaping, suggesting e-cigarettes are a gateway drug to traditional combustible cigarettes and that vaping companies want to get kids hooked. Yet they often contradict themselves. While claiming flavors like “fruit medley” and “crème brulee” are created to appeal to kids (and therefore grow the e-cigarette market of new teen buyers), they simultaneously suggest kids will easily switch over to traditional cigarettes, which (News Flash!), don’t come in a variety of fruit and candy flavors. 

Our legitimate desire to prevent teens from taking up vaping and smoking, shouldn't obscure the bigger picture and positive trends that are occurring when it comes to teen and adult smoking.  In addition to the decline in the rates of teen smoking and vaping, vaping and the availability of products like Juul are helping long-term smokers of traditional cigarettes finally kick the habit. Keep in mind:  E-cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful than traditional cigarettes. That’s why health care providers in the UK often urge smokers to switch to vaping. It’s too bad that regulators in the US are so slow to see the value of these products, and that the media is leaving that important piece out of this story.