Policy Memo: Tightening Regulations on E-cigarettes

The following is a policy memo that was written for course PPOL 510: Public Policy Process. The memo includes recommendations to the FDA and the Trump administration regarding tightening regulations on E-cigarettes, with a focus on combating the teen smoking epidemic.



To: Norman Sharpless, Acting Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration
From: Andy Green, Director of the Center for Tobacco Products
Date: October 1, 2019
Subject: Recommendation to Tighten Regulations on E-cigarettes, Focused on Teen Smoking Epidemic

Recommendation:

The administration should move aggressively to combat the growing epidemic of teen smoking. I recommend that the FDA institute a ban on flavored E-cigarettes, further regulate the advertising and marketing activities of E-cigarette companies, and escalate enforcement measures on underage sales of E-cigarettes. Additionally, the administration should voice support for ongoing legislative efforts to raise the legal age of purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old. Undertaking these measures would have a major impact on combating the epidemic of teen smoking, while not infringing on the liberty of adults, or negating the potential public health benefits of existing smokers switching to E-cigarettes.

Background:

Today you will be meeting with strategists from the administration to discuss your stance on tightening regulations for E-cigarettes. This issue has come to the attention of key figures within the administration on account of a few factors. First, a series of concerning statistics showing a dramatic increase in teen smoking have recently come to light. Recent studies have found a 78% year-over-year increase in E-cigarette use amongst teens, with over 3.6 million middle and high school students reporting E-cigarette use within the past 30 days.1 This is highly concerning, both because we know that there is a high likelihood of teen E-cigarette use leading to the adoption of conventional cigarettes later in life, and because of the evidence showing that nicotine can be highly harmful to adolescent brain development.2 The second major factor that has brought this issue to the attention of key administration officials has been the emergence of reports linking vaping to almost 500 respiratory illnesses and possibly six deaths.3 This development has caught the attention of President Trump himself, with the First Lady and the President reportedly taking a personal interest on account of their teenage son, Barron.4

In response to this emerging health crisis, a number of states have moved to ban or restrict the sale of E-cigarettes.5 The FDA is already facing calls from lawmakers and other prominent figures to take more aggressive action, and the pressure is only likely to grow as additional statistics and reporting on health concerns come to light. It is imperative that the administration move quickly to address this issue.

  1. Banning Flavored E-Cigarettes
  • There is bi-partisan support in favor of doing so – Senators Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) recently introduced legislation that would limit the sale of flavored E-cigarettes.6
  • The manufacturers have actually indicated they will not fight the move, likely viewing it as an acceptable compromise to fight off further regulation on E-cigarettes altogether.7
  1. Increasing Scrutiny on Marketing / Advertising Activity
  • E-cigarette companies have marketed their products on television, social media, and at events such as movies and concerts.8 These actions appear to be specifically targeted at a younger audience in many cases, and they represent marketing activity that traditional cigarette companies are explicitly prohibited from doing. There is no reason we should treat E-cigarette companies any differently from traditional cigarette companies in this regard. Prohibiting E-cigarette companies from engaging in this type of marketing activity would reduce the amount of positive messaging teenagers are exposed to regarding E-cigarettes, and thus likely decrease adoption rates over time.
  1. Escalating Enforcement Measures on Underage Sales
  • The threat of substantial civil penalties for retailers who are caught selling to underage buyers can serve as an effective deterrent. A series of well-publicized sting operations with hefty penalties could go a long way in sending a message to retailers that there is a large price to pay for this behavior.
  • This strategy is likely to be well received by the administration from a political standpoint, as it re-enforces the President’s “tough on crime” perception.
  • The administration’s decision to levy $100M of new user fees on E-cigarette manufacturers ensures that the FDA will have ample budget to carry out these enforcement measures without creating additional budgetary pressure.9
  1. Supporting Legislative Efforts to Raise the Legal Age of Purchasing Tobacco from 18 to 21
  • Similar to the idea of banning flavored E-cigarettes, this idea has both bi-partisan support – with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicating he plans to introduce legislation – and is supported by the tobacco and E-cigarette manufacturers.10
  • Additionally, 12 states and 450+ localities have already raised the age of purchasing tobacco to 21, indicating this would not be a dramatic move without precedent.11
  1. Resisting Calls for Outright Ban on E-cigarettes
  • The administration’s focus should be on combating the epidemic of teen smoking, and the four strategies above will accomplish that goal. Banning E-cigarettes outright is an unnecessary step that would be a major infringement on the liberty of adults who choose to smoke E-cigarettes.
  • While further research is still required, researchers believe there is a high likelihood that E-cigarettes are less harmful to your health than traditional cigarettes;12 banning them would negate the possibility of realizing massive public health benefits from existing smokers switching to E-cigarettes.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, the alarming rise in teen smoking has led to many calls for tightening regulations on E-cigarettes, including some who have called for an outright ban. This would be a grave mistake, as there is good reason to believe there are significant public health benefits associated with having E-cigarettes as an alternative option for existing smokers.13 However, it is imperative that the administration take aggressive action to curb E-cigarette use amongst teens specifically, and the strategies laid out in this memo provide a highly effective means of doing so.



Footnotes:

  1. Fullerton Lemons, J. (2019). E-Cigarette Dilemma. CQ Researcher.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Kaplan, S. (2019, September 11). Trump Administration Plans to Ban Flavored E-Cigarettes. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/11/health/trump-vaping.html

  4. Ibid.

  5. Allyn, B. (2019, September 25). Juul Accepts Proposed Ban On Flavored Vaping Products As CEO Steps Down. NPR. Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/2019/09/25/764201798/juul-will-agree-to-ban-on-flavored-vaping-products-says-its-ceo-is-stepping-down

  6. Fullerton Lemons, J. (2019). E-Cigarette Dilemma. CQ Researcher.

  7. Allyn, B. (2019, September 25). Juul Accepts Proposed Ban On Flavored Vaping Products As CEO Steps Down. NPR. Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/2019/09/25/764201798/juul-will-agree-to-ban-on-flavored-vaping-products-says-its-ceo-is-stepping-down

  8. Fullerton Lemons, J. (2019). E-Cigarette Dilemma. CQ Researcher.

  9. Ibid.

  10. Ibid.

  11. Ibid.

  12. Ibid.

  13. Ibid.

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Andy Green
MS in Data Science for Public Policy Candidate ‘21