While it may be easier to find a JUUL, the electronic cigarette resembling a flash drive on campus, than a real USB drive, the Food and Drug Administration is taking new steps to combat nicotine addiction among people under age 18.
Five major e-cigarette companies — JUUL, Vuse, MarkTen XL, blu e-cigs and Logic — were given a 60-day notice to counteract their product’s availability and popularity among underage users.
The FDA’s main complaints are ease of access and sweet, fruity flavors that appeal to kids.
FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb revealed the possibility of a ban on flavored e-cigarette products in a Sept. 12 statement.
“We know that the flavors play an important role in driving the youth appeal,” Gottlieb said. “And we’re seriously considering a policy change that would lead to the immediate removal of these flavored products from the market.”
Chase Conklin, an employee at Cloud 9 Smoke and Vape Co. on Broad Street, believes young people decide to vape due to social influence from their peers rather than for the taste.
“I don’t think kids are doing it because of the flavors,” Conklin said. “I think they’re doing it because everyone else is doing it. That’s how it’s always been.”
As for underage access to the products, Conklin believes it is each shop’s job to ensure they adhere to the regulations that are already in place, which include only selling to customers over the age of 18 and checking photo IDs for anyone under the age of 27.
“We don’t just ID people who look young. It’s every single person that enters the store. When people walk in I greet them, ask how they are and then ask for ID,” Conklin said.
Conklin has personal experience with underage kids trying to beat the system but has never had an issue dealing with it.
“I have had a couple kids come in here. Usually they’ll say they don’t have their ID, or they’ll try to just tell me their birth year,” Conklin said. “I’m never going to say I don’t believe somebody, so I tell them, ‘Unfortunately if you don’t have ID I’m gonna have to ask you to step outside.’”
Despite their popularity, these devices are already banned from the University of Georgia.
UGA is a smoke-free campus, and according to the University System of Georgia policy manual, tobacco products are defined as any smoking devices that use or simulate the use of tobacco, including e-cigarettes.
Andrew Davis, a senior history major from Jonesboro, doesn’t own an e-cigarette but has plenty of friends who do.
“I don’t know anyone who actually uses them to quit smoking. I have friends who smoke cigarettes and use their JUULs at the same time,” Davis said.
Like Conklin, Davis believes peer pressure is a bigger influence than enticing flavors.
“I’ve puffed on one before, and the fruity flavors don’t even taste good immediately. You have to get used to it,” Davis said. “I feel like younger kids are probably looking at older kids using them and learning that it’s a cool thing to do.”
Zach Mildren, a junior psychology major from Summerville, has seen the positive benefits that come along with the intended purpose of e-cigarettes.
“I know two people who actually use vapes to fight tobacco addictions,” Mildren said.
Mildren said underage use of e-cigarettes is damaging, especially for users who weren’t addicted to tobacco in the first place.
“If the FDA bans flavors I think it would absolutely be effective,” Mildren said. “Obviously there will always be some kids who smoke cigarettes, but it’s got to be even more attractive when that nasty cigarette taste is replaced by an actual flavor.”
In response to the FDA’s requests, Kevin Burns, CEO of JUUL Labs, released a statement, saying their mission is to provide a safer alternative for adult smokers.
“By working together, we believe we can help adult smokers while preventing access to minors, and we will continue to engage with the FDA to fulfill our mission,” Burns said.