The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday placed a ban on vaping cartridges that contain sweet, mint or fruit flavoring after an outbreak of mysterious lung illnesses linked to the products spiked last year.
The new regulations were designed to target “unauthorized flavored [electronic]-cigarette products that appeal to kids,” the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement Thursday.
Tobacco and menthol flavors will remain on the market. Flavored vaping liquids used to refill vape pens that have “open tank” systems, which allow users to refill the vape cartridge, are also not affected by the ban. In November, Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA commissioner, described open tank vaping systems as a product used largely by adults.
“Our action today seeks to strike the right public health balance by maintaining e-cigarettes as a potential off-ramp for adults using combustible tobacco while ensuring these products don’t provide an on-ramp to nicotine addiction for our youth,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in the statement.
“We will not stand idly by as this crisis among America’s youth grows and evolves, and we will continue monitoring the situation and take further actions as necessary,” Azar said.
Companies are ordered to cease the manufacture, distribution and sales of such products within 30 days. The FDA sent a proposal with the new e-cigarette regulations to the White House on Monday, Bloomberg reported.
The ban announced Thursday is much weaker than the one proposed by President Donald Trump in September, after six people had died from vape-related complications.
At that time, Trump called on the FDA to pull all flavored e-cigarette and vaping products, including mint and menthol flavors, from the market.
“We may very well have to do something very, very strong about it,” Trump said during a surprise meeting at the White House Oval Office with Azar and acting FDA commissioner Ned Sharpless in September.
As of Dec. 27, a total of 2,561 people had been hospitalized for a vaping-related lung injury and at least 55 people across the country have died, according to a tally kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In November, CDC officials said that vitamin E acetate, an oil that is added to some THC-based vaping products, may be to blame for the lung injuries and deaths.
However, some researchers believe that all vaping products are inherently dangerous.
Laura Crotty Alexander, a pulmonologist who has been studying the effects of e-cigarettes since 2013, told HuffPost last September that the aerosol that is created while users inhale vape pens may contain toxic substances, including formaldehyde.
In her own research, Alexander said she’s seen the aerosol alter immune systems, trigger inflammation and cause direct harm to the heart, kidneys and liver when ingested by mice.
The American Academy of Pediatrics said it opposes the FDA’s proposed ban, saying that it doesn’t go far enough to protect children, since it allows menthol flavoring and refillable vape products.
“Today the Trump administration failed to take the strong action necessary to address the youth e-cigarette epidemic,” Dr. Sally Goza, the president of the AAP, said in a statement. “The guidance could have been a meaningful victory for children’s health and instead is a major missed opportunity that will still leave young people at risk for addiction.”
The AAP called on the Trump administration to ban all flavored vaping products, including refillable liquids and menthol.