FDA Efforts to Curb Youth Vaping Continue to Come Up Short

Most people associate the Food and Drug Administration with regulating prescription drugs and other medical goods. The agency’s actual regulatory power extends to about 20 percent of all US consumer goods. Some of its authority extends over large portions of the economy—affecting the entire healthcare market and the quality of life for millions of Americans. 

One of the FDA’s most expansions of power came in 2016 when it began regulating e-cigarettes. By 2018, it launched the ongoing “war on vaping” and started a heavy-handed crackdown on e-cigarette producers and retailers. As then FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb vowed, the agency was

going to permanently step up our enforcement actions with a sustained campaign to monitor, penalize and prevent e-cig sales to minors in convenience stores and other retail sites. It’s clear there’s need for strong federal enforcement of youth access restrictions.

Their efforts have continued ever since. An FDA Newsroom Report notes:

as of August 2023, FDA has issued approximately 600 warning letters to firms for manufacturing and/or distributing illegal tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, filed civil money penalty complaints against 26 e-cigarette manufacturers, and worked with the Department of Justice to seek injunctions against 6 e-cigarette manufacturers.

Well before then, the FDA seized documents from vaping producers, issued hundreds of fines, and removed flavored e-cigarette cartridges from the market. In June 2022, the agency banned e-cigarette producer Juul from marketing its products in the US. Two other leading vaping producers received stern warnings that they could soon face similar penalties. 

But have these extensive efforts stopped the youth vaping “epidemic?” Hardly. 

A recent study published in JAMA Network Open examines whether recent efforts to curb teenage vaping use have decreased after the FDA began regulating the e-cigarette market. The study overwhelmingly finds “no evidence of differences in e-cigarette continuation rates between youth who previously used e-cigarettes.”

The FDA’s failures to stop teens from vaping are hardly new. As I noted in 2019, vaping rates among teenagers and minors were comparatively lower when states determined vaping regulations. In 2014, forty-one states already passed legislation to stop minors and teens from vaping. By 2018, two years after the FDA took over vaping regulations, vaping rates had increased for the same groups. 

The FDA’s efforts to control the vaping industry increased considerably for seven years, and there is little to show. I wonder if anything can be done to get the FDA to quit. 

Raymond J. March is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Assistant Professor of Agribusiness and Applied Economics at North Dakota State University.
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