FDA’s New E-Cigarette Prevention Campaign Needed Now More than Ever to Stem ‘Disturbing’ Epidemic

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
September 18, 2018

WASHINGTON, DC – The FDA’s new campaign aimed at educating teens about the dangers of electronic cigarettes is an important and much needed step toward tackling what FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb last week called an “epidemic” of youth e-cigarette use. This creative new campaign seeks to snap teens out of what the FDA calls a “cost-free mentality” around e-cigarettes and the mistaken belief that these products aren’t dangerous for them to use. The FDA is to be congratulated for a hard-hitting campaign that uses images and language that will speak to teens.

However, to be successful, FDA’s efforts to educate kids about e-cigarettes need to be accompanied by strong action by the FDA that prohibits e-cigarette manufacturers from selling products with flavors and using advertising themes and images that appeal to kids. The FDA must also reverse its decision allowing e-cigarettes introduced before August 8, 2016, to stay on the market for years without agency review and enforce current law prohibiting the introduction of new products after August 8, 2016, without such review.

Commissioner Gottlieb today repeated that the latest unpublished survey information shows “a disturbingly sharp rise in the number of teens using e-cigarettes in just the last year.” Even before that survey, since 2014, e-cigarettes have been the most popular tobacco product among kids. The latest published data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey shows that in 2017, 11.7 percent of high school students used e-cigarettes, compared to 7.6 percent who smoked cigarettes.

“The Real Cost” youth e-cigarette prevention campaign underscores the fact that e-cigarettes—no matter what brand or type—are definitely not safe for kids to use. The new ads, which will run on digital and social media sites popular with teens, such as YouTube and Spotify, emphasize the risks of using e-cigarettes, including nicotine addiction and exposure to harmful chemicals. A 2016 Surgeon General’s report concluded that youth use of nicotine in any form, including e-cigarettes, is unsafe, can cause addiction and can harm the developing adolescent brain. A January 2018 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded, “There is substantial evidence that e-cigarette use increases risk of ever using combustible tobacco cigarettes among youth and young adults.”

Campaigns to reduce tobacco use save lives and save money by reducing tobacco-related health care costs. In its first two years, the original “The Real Cost” ads targeting at-risk youth smokers prevented nearly 350,000 teens from starting to smoke cigarettes, half of whom might have gone on to become established adult smokers, ultimately saving these kids, their families, and the country more than $31 billion by reducing smoking-related costs like early loss of life, costly medical care, lost wages, lower productivity, and increased disability.