US regulators have unveiled long-awaited restrictions on flavoured e-cigarettes in an attempt to contain an “epidemic” of teenage vaping, but stopped short of an outright ban in a decision criticised by public health campaigners.
Companies have been given 30 days to cease the manufacture, distribution and sale of “cartridge-based” flavoured versions of the devices under a Food and Drug Administration policy laid down on Thursday.
But the plans, which will allow e-cigarettes with other delivery systems and tobacco and menthol-flavoured variants to remain on the market, are less far reaching than those the Trump administration put forward in September.
Since then, critics of the restrictions warned the plans would undermine individual choice and threaten jobs.
The decision cuts to the heart of a dilemma facing global health policymakers over how to treat e-cigarettes. Proponents highlight how the devices can wean smokers off traditional cigarettes while critics complain they are getting a new generation hooked on nicotine.
“This policy balances the urgency with which we must address the public health threat of youth use of e-cigarette products with the potential role that e-cigarettes may play in helping adult smokers transition completely away from combustible tobacco,” said Stephen Hahn, FDA commissioner, in a statement.
The watered down restrictions disappointed anti-vaping advocates who had called on the administration to follow through on a wider ban.
“President Trump and the FDA are going spineless in the face of corporate lobbying,” said Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley in a statement. “The health of millions of American children will continue to suffer because of today’s announcement.”
Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the proposals gave “a green light to the e-cigarette industry to continue to target and addict kids”.
The policy was announced as the latest National Youth Tobacco Survey results showed more than 5m American middle and high school students currently use e-cigarettes. Almost 1m used them every day.
Alex Azar, President Donald Trump’s health secretary, said: “The United States has never seen an epidemic of substance use arise as quickly as our current epidemic of youth use of e-cigarettes.”
The FDA added that while it was targeting those versions of e-cigarettes that are popular among youngsters, it left the door open to broader restrictions. “The agency will take additional steps to address youth use of those [other] products if necessary.”