The Food and Drug Administration announced that it will take steps to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, Thursday, Nov. 15, days after Juul Labs said it planned to cut sales of four flavors of e-cigarettes — vapes — to retail stores.

The announcement stopped short of using the FDA’s regulatory authority to ban the sale of flavored vape products. The move comes after increased public outcry over the use of e-cigarettes by teens. At the center of what FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb called an “epidemic” of youth vaping are e-cigarettes made by Juul, which delivers a potent hit of nicotine. The device can be easily concealed because it resembles a USB flash drive.

“The Juul problem is definitely an issue in Ridgefield,” said First Selectman Rudy Marconi. “Two years ago, a couple of senior interns submitted a research paper that found that although alcohol remains the number one choice among high school teens, vaping has replaced weed as the number two choice.”
“This seems to be a common occurrence in the state as Juuls are readily available at many places including some gas stations here in Ridgefield,” he added.

Juul limitations

Under the FDA plan announced on Nov. 15, retailers will now be required to sell flavored vape products from a dedicated vape shop or section of a store that is roped off from people under the age of 18. Flavored combustible cigarettes and cigars — including menthol cigarettes — will be banned, the FDA said.

In a separate action earlier last week on Tuesday, Nov. 13, Juul Labs announced it would halt the sale of four of its flavors to brick-and-mortar retailers.

The company said it will stop accepting orders for cucumber, fruit, mango, and creme-flavored pods — the disposable caps that contain the device’s nicotine liquid. It will continue to sell two flavors of tobacco, mint, and menthol pods in retail stores.

The four flavors removed from store shelves will still be available for sale on Juul’s website, which uses an age-verification system. The website requires the buyer to be 21 or older.

In an effort to combat straw purchases — where an older buyer orders a number of vapes and pods to resell to minors — Juul said it will also be limiting customers to two devices and 15 pod packages per month, and will not sell more than 10 devices to a customer per year.

By the numbers

Last year, Ridgefield High School reported 24 incidents involving students caught with or using a vape or e-cigarette device.

But current and former students who spoke to The Press said the use of vapes is much more prevalent. And an anonymous survey by the Connecticut Department of Health showed that about one-in-seven high school students vape statewide.

“It’s a new enough thing that it kind of took our society off guard, and not enough of us knew what it was until now,” said one parent of Ridgefield students, who spoke on the condition of anonymity .

Marconi said he believes removing flavored Juuls will help with rates of youth addiction. He added the town also needs to do more “educating” on the impact of nicotine, and the risk of users burning their mouth, throat, and lungs with e-cigarettes.

Social media

Juul said it would be shuttering its Facebook and Instagram accounts, and scaling back its presence on YouTube and Twitter, in response to posts promoting underage vaping on social media.

Juul said it would also ask four of the largest platforms, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, to remove content encouraging cigarette or e-cigarette use by minors.

“There is no question that this user-generated social media content is linked to the appeal of vaping to underage users,” the company said in a statement.

And there’s a chance that the four flavors Juul said it would remove from store shelves could end up coming back. At the bottom of its press release, the company said it would begin shipping the flavors to retailers again if they prove they can comply with a new age-verification system.

Menthol

“I actually see the rationale behind that,” said the parent, when asked about the FDA’s decision to ban menthol cigarettes but not menthol e-cigarettes.

“The adult population is using menthol cigarettes. If we can get them off the menthol cigarettes and on to menthol e-cigarettes, that’s a good thing, right?”

She said she thinks the FDA taking a hard stance against the use of vapes by minors will act as a deterrence for young people in Ridgefield. “I think with the regulatory body saying ‘hey, this is bad’ you might take note.”

In a statement Thursday, FDA Commissioner Dr. Gottlieb defended the agency’s choice to pursue a ban on menthol cigarettes, but not menthol and other flavored vapes.

“We still have a market where menthol is available in combustible cigarettes and I didn’t want to tilt that market in favor of the combustible products and away from e-cigs at the very time we are trying to get more adult smokers to quit traditional cigarettes,” Gottlieb said.