FDA bans Juul vaping products as part of nicotine crackdown

After a two-year review, the Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday it will ban all vaping and e-cigarette products sold by Juul. It's part of a series of more aggressive moves by the FDA to target vaping and smoking. Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, joins William Brangham to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    After a two-year review, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced today that it will ban all vaping and e-cigarette products sold by Juul.

    It is part of a series of more aggressive moves by the FDA to target vaping and smoking.

    William Brangham has the details.

  • William Brangham:

    Judy, the FDA first began scrutinizing Juul in 2019, when its fruit-flavored vaping pods ads and marketing strategy prompted accusations that the company was specifically targeting young people. Those flavors were eventually removed, and Juul is no longer nearly as dominant in the market as it once was. But it is still a big player in vaping.

    And now the company is blocked from selling any products. This comes just days after the FDA said it was considering setting a strict cap on the amount of nicotine allowed in cigarettes.

    Joining me now is someone who has long pressed for these kinds of moves. Matthew Myers is the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

    Matthew Myers, great to have you back on the "NewsHour."

    Let's talk about this Juul ban first. What do you make of this announcement?

    Matthew Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids: This is probably the most significant action FDA has taken to reverse the youth e-cigarette epidemic.

    We need to remember that Juul, more than any other company, was largely responsible for the meteoric rise in youth e-cigarette use between 2015 and, until recently, 2020. What we saw was literally doubling of the number of kids addicted to nicotine, levels that we haven't seen in 20, 25 years.

  • William Brangham:

    But we know — so Juul is now banned, but its other competitors can still sell their products, and some of those products are as popular, if not more popular, than Juul.

    So does just targeting Juul have a real impact?

  • Matthew Myers:

    FDA isn't just targeting Juul, we hope, we know.

    The decision today is about Juul, but FDA has pending before it applications from the other major companies who continue to market products that are appealing to and addicting our children.

    What will be critical is whether FDA follows through with the other companies, largely that are marketing flavored products, some of them with extraordinary levels of addiction — of nicotine, to ensure that all the products that are fueling the e-cigarette epidemic are pulled from the market.

    If FDA is consistent in its decision-making, it will do so. And we still have time to reverse the youth e-cigarette epidemic before it becomes a generational problem.

  • William Brangham:

    Juul has said that they're going to appeal this decision by the FDA.

    But — again, I know you're not with the FDA or representing them here, but do you have any understanding as to why Juul in particular was targeted? Was it something about their products? Was it about their prior behavior? What was it?

  • Matthew Myers:

    Well, first, I think it's important to understand that Juul really wasn't targeted in this case.

    Every company has had to apply for authorization by FDA to continue marketing their products. Today is just Juul's turn. But Juul is unique. Juul literally was the company that made e-cigarette used by kids fashionable and an epidemic. They did so by introducing a sleek product that appealed to kids, used flavor to deliver nicotine in unprecedented levels, and then took a lesson from the tobacco industry playbook about using images that, by and large, mostly appealed to adolescents, both boys and girls.

    It worked. That's why the decision today is so important. You're right, though. If we're going to reverse the youth e-cigarette epidemic, FDA has to apply the same standards to all of the other companies and remove all of the flavored products that appeal to kids.

  • William Brangham:

    The vaping industry decried this move by the FDA against Juul today. And they argue, our products are incredibly useful for adults to wean off cigarettes and other tobacco products and that curtailing their use in the marketplace is a bad public health strategy.

    What is your response to that?

  • Matthew Myers:

    You know, unfortunately, the e-cigarette industry has done everything to resist responsible regulation.

    So, 10 years after they have been in the marketplace, we know two things. One is, they have largely attracted children, and, two, the evidence is still inadequate to conclude that they're helpful to adults quitting.

    Every study that has looked at the population impact of e-cigarettes in the United States has found that it has led to a meteoric rise in youth use, but no demonstrable impact on the percentage of adult smokers who quit.

    Thus, they talk a good game, but, unfortunately, they have decided to maximize the profit off the youth market.

  • William Brangham:

    Separately, this week, the FDA floated the idea that it may someday try to introduce a very strict limit on the amount of nicotine that is allowed into cigarettes.

    Can you help us understand, from a scientific perspective, why that is important? Why is limiting nicotine in cigarettes important?

  • Matthew Myers:

    Well, it's probably the most important action FDA or any other federal agency could take to reduce the number of people who die from tobacco use.

    And we have to remember, in the United States still, close to 500,000 people die every year from tobacco use. Virtually all of them began as kids. And most of them were addicted before they were old enough to purchase the product legally.

    Kids will experiment with dangerous products. It's the nicotine that addicts them, and that it is the nicotine that causes a lifelong smoking addiction. What we know is, you can reduce nicotine levels to minimally addictive levels. And if you do it right, smokers won't compensate, and a huge numbers of smokers will quit.

    FDA estimates that, if this were to go into place, 33 million fewer children would become addicted to tobacco and, in the first year alone, five million adults would quit. Understanding that smoking kills over half of all long-term users, just imagine that public health gains.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, thank you very much.

  • Matthew Myers:

    Thank you.

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