WASHINGTON — The U.S. government on Thursday began enforcing restrictions on flavored electronic cigarettes aimed at curbing underage vaping. But some teenagers may be one step ahead of the rules.
Parents, researchers and students warn that some young people have already moved on to a newer kind of vape that isn't covered by the flavor ban.
These disposable e-cigarettes are sold under brands like Puff Bar, Stig and Fogg in flavors such as pink lemonade, blueberry ice and tropical mango.
The Food and Drug Administration's crackdown narrowly targets reusable vaping devices like Juul, the blockbuster brand that helped trigger the teen vaping craze in the U.S. Under the new policy, only menthol and tobacco flavors are allowed for those devices.
Critics of the FDA policy fear teens will simply switch to the cheaper disposables, which are widely available at convenience stores and gas stations.
"They are very accessible and seem to be the new buzzy product," said Dr. Karen Wilson, a tobacco researcher and pediatrician at Mount Sinai's medical school in New York.
The FDA confirmed that the flavor restriction won't apply to "self-contained, disposable products," but only to rechargeable ones that use pods or cartridges prefilled with a nicotine solution.
The agency's rationale: Reusable vaping devices are far and away the most popular with underage users, preferred by more than 60% of high schoolers who vape, according to survey data collected last year.
The FDA's top tobacco regulator said it can still go after any vaping product that appeals to teenagers.
"If we see a product that is targeted to kids, we will take action," Mitch Zeller, who heads the agency's tobacco center, said in a statement.
Thursday was the deadline for makers of reusable e-cigarettes to stop selling fruity and candy flavors. Juul was already in compliance. It dropped its best selling mint and most other flavors before the ban was announced in early January and only sells tobacco and menthol.
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