By Simon Thomas
Bellingham is often cloudy, but some of that haze might clear up soon.
Sales of flavored e-liquids for vaping at convenience stores may be curtailed as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is bolstering their efforts to reduce vaping among young people, according to a statement released on Thursday, Nov. 15.
The FDA is looking to restrict the sale of flavored e-liquids to stores that check IDs at the door. This will affect e-liquid brands such as Juul Labs, a company now worth $15 billion due to recent sale increase, according to Fortune. If convenience stores wish to continue selling these products, they would require a separate room with an ID check.
The new regulation comes after the FDA conducted the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey, which estimated that 3.6 million high school students use e-cigarette products. The FDA statement reported nearly 90 percent of adult smokers started before the age of 18.
This new regulation is an attempt to combat that statistic.
“Any policy accommodation to advance the innovations that could present an alternative to smoking – particularly as it relates to e-cigarettes – cannot, and will not, come at the expense of addicting a generation of children to nicotine,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in the statement.
The news of these new regulations has resulted in immediate accommodation by some companies. For example, Juul Labs changed their mission statement to “Improve the lives of the world’s one billion adult smokers” when the FDA first expressed concern earlier this year. Juul Labs CEO Kevin Burns also released a statement on Nov. 13 addressing the company’s role in deterring young people from using their products.
“We certainly don’t want youth using the product. It is bad for public health, and it is bad for our mission. JuuL Labs and FDA share a common goal – preventing youth from initiating on nicotine,” Burns said.
Senior Sebastian Leigh Freigang, a German and political science major at Western, has been a store clerk at the Smart Stop on North Garden Street for almost a year. The convenience store is located between the Sehome and York neighborhoods, making it the closest place for many students living in the area to purchase flavored e-liquids, like Juul pods.
Freigang said it's unlikely convenience stores will add a seperate room for e-liquids.
“The issue with that, especially with smaller stores, is that you would have to employ a second clerk,” Freigang said. “If the FDA had that requirement, which I would see as very sensible, it might put a new burden on the owner because he would have to staff a second room.”
Freigang said if new regulations do get implemented, stores similar to the one he works at may not sell e-liquids anymore.
“It would have to be optimized. I wouldn’t see it as feasible for smaller stores,” Freigang said.
Freigang said he thinks a solution would be to require better equipment for store clerks to check if an ID is authentic. He added that there have been times when he was unsure if an ID was fake, but has no way to prove it, so requiring an ID check at the door of a second room wouldn't help.
While trying to combat youth nicotine addiction, the FDA said that flavored e-liquids have also played a role in adult smokers quitting more harmful products containing nicotine, and say new regulations will not come at the cost of reducing adult smokers’ access to these products.
Senior Courtney Tacazon had been smoking tobacco since her senior year in high school. She has been vaping using e-juice products since her junior year at Western, and says they helped her quit smoking.
Tacazon buys her e-juice at tobacco stores already, which traditionally have more variety than convenience stores, so the regulation proposed would not affect her buying habits. She said she thinks the new FDA regulation on e-liquids happening would not limit an adult smoker’s ability to easily access these products.
“I don’t think it limits my vaping at all,” Tacazon said. “But I think it is going to be good for kids, because a lot of young people are getting addicted to these things because it’s directed toward them.”
Tacazon said that as long as these products are advertised toward young people, nicotine addiction associated with youth in the U.S. will continue.
“Kids are going to find ways to get [e-liquids] offline still,” she said. “Maybe by using their parents ID to get into websites, or an 18-year-old friend, or whatever.”
Maddysehn Willett is the manager at Legacy Lounge Vape and Glass, a vape lounge located on 32nd Street. Willett said the vape industry has been through a lot of changes over the last year due to regulations.
“It has been a really big gray area for just about everything, we obviously still have hundreds of flavors on our shelves right now, so it’s not like anything specific has really taken effect,” Willett said. “Other than Juul, other big brands like Naked, Banzai and some underdog companies will still be easily available to us.”
Willett pointed out that as these new policies are being resolved, smoke shops will still be allowed to carry these products with no issues at all. She estimated that the slow process of rewriting laws could take years.
“We had some major FDA regulations hit us that were very clear on specific things, but there was also a whole other category of regulations they were also trying to put into place involving what flavors you could and couldn’t carry, no matter what brand it came from,” she said.
Willett said these regulations were written to deter minors from wanting to use those products, and they included regulations on what can be put on covers of the products as well, so that companies could not explicitly advertise to children. They were, however, never permanently put into place.
“Obviously adults like fruity deliciousness too,” Willett said.
The FDA statement will catalyze change on the current system in place, but consumers may not see distinct difference until actual policies are permanently put into place.