In a major new effort to curb smoking, a top US health official pledged Thursday to try to ban menthol cigarettes and aromatic cigars and strengthen rules governing the sale of the latest versions of electronic cigarettes.
The proposed restrictions were mainly aimed at reducing smoking in children: about half of teenagers smoked cigarettes chose menthol, and aromatized e-cigarettes were blamed for the recent increase in teenage teens.
"I will not allow the generation of children to become addicted to nicotine via e-cigarette," said Scott Gottlieb, Food and Drug Commissioner.
Health advocates say the ban on menthol would have a greater impact on the health of Americans, but it would probably take several years to get introduced. Changes to e-cigarettes could begin within a few months.
Electronic cigarette batteries are more popular among teenagers than regular rifles and are considered safer. But many versions contain potentially infectious nicotine, and health officials believe that they set up children who try them on their way to regular cigarettes.
Gottlieb requested additional steps to prevent the placement of electronic cigarettes directly by children and online sale to minors. He also suggested taking measures to ensure that comfort shops and other traders do not sell e-cigarettes in child-friendly, cherries and vanilla flavors. They could still be sold in shops or other jobs that did not recognize minors.
Smoking is the leading cause of disease that can be prevented, causing more than 480,000 deaths every year. The FDA is currently prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes and tobacco products to those under the age of 18.
In 2009, the government banned numerous aromas in cigarettes that are kind to children. But after aggressive lobbying of tobacco logs, menthol was exempted.
Gottlieb's proposal for the aromatization of e-cigarettes also excludes menthol. He said that menthol e-cigarettes could be an option for adults who are turning to products that live to quit regular cigarettes and decided not to encourage the abolition of menthol aroma in discharging products.
Smoking has dropped for more than five decades. Some 42% of adults in the US smoked at the beginning of the sixties. Last year, the rate fell to 14 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Experts lend anti-smoking campaigns, cigarette tax and smoking ban for most of the fall in adult rates. But some say that adult smokers who are switching to e-cigarettes have also helped in the past few years.
The cigarette smoking rate is even lower among high school students – about 9 percent, according to the latest figures.
However, the use of electronic cigarettes this year jumped 78 percent among American children in high school and 48 percent among secondary school children, Gottlieb said. He quoted a survey last spring of more than 20,000 high school students and high school students. About 21 percent of high school students said they were recently collected, and 5 percent of secondary schools said they had.
Some experts attributed the leap to new versions of e-cigarettes, such as those of Juul Labs Inc. from San Francisco. These products resemble computer flash drives, they can be recharged in USB ports and can be used discreetly.
"Increasing the popularity of e-cigarettes (among children) is almost certainly not a function of taste. All tastes have already been there," said Kenneth Vorner, a public health professor at the University of Michigan who is the leading authority for smoking and health.
The FDA has taken earlier steps to investigate the marketing of e-cigarettes by Juul and other companies.
Outside FDA, Juul stopped filling orders for mangoes, fruits, creams and cucumbers on Tuesday, and will continue to sell to retailers who scans IDs and take other steps to confirm the buyer at least 21. The company said Juul will continue to sell mentola and mint in stores and sell all tastes through its website.
Health advocates generally welcomed plans for e-cigarettes, but some said they did not go far enough. Some have called for a complete ban on aroma, for example, and more aggressive regulation of e-cigarettes that have appeared on the market in the last two years.
Proposed e-cigarette sales restrictions "are a step forward, but they are not enough in themselves to stop the epidemic of younger e-cigarettes," said Robin Koval, executive director of the Initiative for the Truth, a law enforcement group dealing with anti-tobacco ads.
Gottlieb acknowledged that he could take more up-to-date steps, "but I do not want to exclude opportunities for currently dependent adult smokers" to access electronic cigarettes while trying to leave regular rifles.
He also said that he hopes that electronic cigarette companies are working to restrict children from purchasing their products. If ongoing efforts fail, he is willing to take more steps later, he said.
Menthol cigarettes, which contain a mint compound that reduces smoke levels and suppresses cough, have been widely marketed since the fifties and sixties of the last century.
About one-third of the cigarettes sold today are menthols, according to some estimates.
Measures for e-cigarettes are likely to face little opposition, but Gottlieb "has the courage" to continue banning the menthol because it will draw political and legal fires from the tobacco industry and its supporters, Verner said.
An Altria Group Inc. official, one of the big tobacco companies, said a complete ban on cigarettes of menthol or flavored cigars would "be an extreme measure that is not supported by science and evidence".
Murrai Garnick, Altria's general agent, said the company expects that setting standards for products for menthol cigarettes and aromatised cigars will be "a multi-year, conscious process".