Following news reports about mysterious vaping-related illnesses, the Trump administration intends to prohibit flavored nicotine vapes, on the theory that flavored vapes are especially appealing to minors and encouraging them to take up nicotine use.
I am agnostic on whether a flavored-vape ban is a good idea. I think teen vaping is a serious problem: Teen smoking has been close to defeated, but now teens are using nicotine vapes at levels close to their smoking rates from two decades ago. But because vaping appears to be safer than smoking cigarettes, I worry about any rule that might make switching from cigarettes to vapes less attractive for adults. Also, importantly in the context of this summer’s news about vaping-related illnesses, I worry that restrictions on legal flavored-vape products could lead consumers to buy less-regulated vape products on the black market.
Important though the question of teen use of nicotine vapes is, it does not appear to have much to do with the acute crisis in the news, which is people getting very sick and sometimes dying from acute illnesses linked to vaping. As former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb has noted, most of these illnesses appear to be related to marijuana vape products, not nicotine products.
Unlike with nicotine vapes, the FDA does not have legal authority to regulate marijuana vape products. Gottlieb is right to note this is a problem. Marijuana is now de facto legal in the U.S., and there is a bustling industry churning out novel products, including vapor products. This is a positive change in many ways, but we’re seeing now that some of those products can be dangerous, and consumers are not well-equipped to figure out which ones.
Federal regulators are needed to ensure consumer safety — and that has to start with Congress admitting marijuana is legal and giving the FDA authority to regulate it.