FDA to Expand Education Campaign to Head Off Youths’ E-Cigarette Use

The agency is using a wide range of tools to address tobacco use by the young

A new “strategic” public health education campaign aimed at discouraging the use of e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) by children and teens has been announced by the FDA.

The agency plans to expand its “The Real Cost” public education campaign to include messaging to teens about the dangers of using these products this fall while developing a full-scale campaign to launch in 2018. These efforts are part of the agency’s new comprehensive plan for tobacco and nicotine regulation, as well as ongoing efforts to educate youth about, and protect them from, the dangers associated with using all tobacco products. It is the first time the FDA will be utilizing public health education to specifically target youth use of e-cigarettes or other ENDS.

“While we pursue a policy that focuses on addressing the role that nicotine plays in keeping smokers addicted to combustible cigarettes, and to help move those who cannot quit nicotine altogether onto less harmful products, we will also continue to work vigorously to keep all tobacco products out of the hands of kids,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD. “Educating youth about the dangers of tobacco products has been a cornerstone of our efforts to reduce the harms caused by these products. Including e-cigarettes and other ENDS products in our prevention work not only makes sense, it reflects the troubling reality that they are the most commonly-used tobacco product among youth.”

More than two million middle and high school students were current users of e-cigarettes and other ENDS in 2016. Data also show about half of all middle and high school students who were current tobacco users also used two or more tobacco products last year. This use by children and teens is especially concerning because of evidence that youth exposure to nicotine affects the developing brain and may rewire it to be more susceptible to nicotine addiction in the future.

The FDA’s recently announced plan puts nicotine and the issue of addiction at the center of the agency’s efforts. This policy aims to strike a careful balance between the regulation of all tobacco products and the opportunity to encourage development of innovative tobacco products that may be less dangerous than combustible cigarettes. But, importantly, the approach also continues to focus on the need to reduce the access and appeal of all tobacco products to youth, including e-cigarettes and other ENDS, and maintains all of the existing regulations that apply to these products.

To redouble efforts to address the concerning youth use of these products, the FDA will capitalize on “The Real Cost” campaign this fall by releasing new digital materials that are targeted to youth and focused on ENDS. This will include online videos to educate kids about the dangers of using e-cigarettes or other ENDS. At the same time, the agency is undertaking an effort to shape a new, full-scale campaign that is exclusively focused on youth use of ENDS. The FDA plans to launch this new, more extensive content in 2018.

The FDA will continue to enforce existing regulations specifically aimed at addressing youth access to ENDS and other newly regulated products, including banning the sale of tobacco products to youth under age 18, requiring age verification by photo ID, and prohibiting free samples. Since August 2016, the FDA has issued more than 6,400 warning letters to brick-and-mortar and online retailers for selling newly regulated tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes, to minors.

 “The FDA has a multipronged effort to protect kids from using any nicotine-containing product, including e-cigarettes,” said Mitch Zeller, JD, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. “As we continue to learn more about these products and their relationship to youth, the agency will be better prepared to help address the issue of youth use through science-based educational efforts and regulatory policies that will ultimately pay the greatest dividends in reducing tobacco-related disease and death.”

Source: FDA; August 8, 2017.