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FDA Moves To Restrict Flavored E-Cigarette Sales, Cornell Professor Weighs In


A Cornell University mass media expert says an E-cigarette manufacturer is pre-emptively announcing an end to its flavored nicotine product-line and related social media promotions ahead of an expected FDA ban. The FDA announced Thursday that it would not instate a complete ban of the product, but it would implement more restrictions on flavored e-cigarette sales. 

Associate professor of Communication Jeff Niederdeppe says the popularity of the JUUL products allowed the company and other manufacturers to thrive. But the product has been cited by health experts for an increase of youth smoking.

"Because there is good evidence that if a smoker switches completely to electronic cigarettes that that is a safer alternative," said Niederdeppe. "However, there is not a safe product for young people to start. We know that nicotine is harmful and addictive and can have harmful effects on the brain. So any marketing or flavoring that entices young people to smoke is clearly a public health problem."

The professor says the JUUL offices were rumored to be raided a few months ago in search of evidence that the company was targeting youth to buy its products.  He feels there is no question that various flavors would entice young people to vape.

"One obviously is flavors like cotton candy and mango dream," said Niederdeppe. "It's hard to see how that is supposedly targeting an adult who is addicted to combustable cigarettes."

He says the image or status of using the products is also supported with social media and advertising campaigns, but companies appear to be tweaking their messages, under FDA pressure.   

"Common for a lot of products is to associate them with rebelliousness or sociality or kind of coolness, and hip young people, use young actors, that sort of thing." said Niederdeppe. "E-cigarette ads have been for some time using those strategies. It's only recently that Juul and other companies announced that they would be shifting their marketing strategy to use older actors, and that sort of thing."

Niederdeppe says the other factor of the popularity is the sleekness of the product design which holds the nicotine. JUUL has opted to stop selling its flavor pods in stores, but will still have the product available online with age verification.  He says it remains to be seen if JUUL’s efforts to decrease access to flavored nicotine will have any effect at stopping people who are already addicted.

Katie Zilcosky is WAER’s All Things Considered host and features reporter. She also co-hosts WAER’s public affairs show Syracuse Speaks. As a reporter, she focuses on technology, economy, and identity.