FDA Stalls In Decision to Completely Ban Vapes

Juul vaping products

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • The FDA denied marketing applications for millions of vaping products because they lacked sufficient evidence on the benefits for adult smokers.
  • The FDA has yet to make a decision on products from dominant e-cigarette companies like Juul, Vuse, and NJOY.
  • Harm reduction advocates say that e-cigarettes should remain on the market to encourage smoking cessation and reduce black market sales, but critics are worried about use among youth and potential health risks.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said last week that it has rejected a majority of the over 6.5 million marketing applications for “new tobacco products."

However, the FDA postponed its decision on whether to ban products from Juul Labs and other major e-cigarette companies, citing the need for more time to review remaining applications. 

The administration issued denial orders to over 946,000 applications because they “lacked sufficient evidence that they have a benefit to adult smokers sufficient to overcome the public health threat posed by the well-documented, alarming levels of youth use of such products.”

Osita I. Onugha, MD, thoracic surgeon and assistant professor of thoracic surgery at Saint John’s Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health, says there are no known benefits of vaping, but many harmful effects.

“Everything that we know about it is bad,” Onugha tells Verywell. “There's no way that putting any kind of product into your lungs is going to be a good thing.”

In 2018, the U.S. Surgeon General declared youth vaping as an epidemic. Although there's been a recent decline in e-cigarette use among adolescents, about 3.6 million youth reported using e-cigarettes in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Vaping products, particularly the ones containing THC, were linked to an outbreak of lung injuries between 2019 and 2020. Diacetyl, a chemical found in many flavored e-cigarettes, also causes "popcorn lung," a severe lung disease. According to the CDC, around 80% of high school and middle school students who vape are using flavored e-cigarettes.

Though youth e-cigarette use is a serious concern, vaping is still a less harmful alternative to cigarettes and an essential tool in harm reduction for long-term smokers.

For people who feel that they cannot quit smoking any other way, Onugha says vapes are “potentially” a better option. He adds that it's harder to know about all the risks involved with e-cigarettes because the products have been around for a shorter time and there's not enough data.

Mixed Feelings on Vaping Risks

The public has voiced mixed feelings on whether or not to ban vapes. Some harm reduction advocates say the products should remain on the market for adult smoking cessation, while critics stress their negative impact on younger users.

Jaime Hickey, a 42-year-old fitness trainer who formerly used vapes as a method of quitting smoking, says he would not be upset if all vaping products are banned.

“Kids think vaping isn’t as bad as smoking,” Hickey tells Verywell. “I do believe that the marketing, the perception of that, makes it easier for young kids to get into.” 

Hickey smoked for 15 years and switched to vaping for five, during which his breathing problems intensified. He does not know if the change was due to vaping, or the accumulation of both habits overtime, but he considers both products to be harmful.

He no longer smokes, vapes or drinks alcohol, and feels great about his decision to quit, but he doesn't push smoking or vaping cessation for others.

“I've had clients that have told me they're trying to quit and I will give them what I thought somewhat helped me when I did it,” Hickey says. “But until you actually want to do it, there's no point in trying.”

Harm reduction advocates, however, say vaping products can reduce the health risks associated with smoking or eventually wean someone off nicotine entirely.

“It's literally harm reduction to vape rather than to smoke combustible tobacco,” Brooke Feldman, MSW, co-founder of the Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Network, tells Verywell.

“For many people the angle certainly might be that this is an off-ramp from combustible tobacco, and eventually the goal might be vaping cessation," Feldman says. "Another person may not have the goal of stopping vaping, and that’s okay too.” 

Someone who's not ready to fully quit smoking may be able to more easily transition to a vape, she adds.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine said that while vaping products have fewer toxic chemicals than traditional cigarettes, they still carry the risks of having asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Could a Vaping Ban Increase Illegal Sales?

If vaping products are banned from the market, they may be sold illegally instead, Feldman adds.

“These crack downs, this prohibition, on flavored vaping products, will really only result in somebody in an unregulated manner deciding to meet the need for people who prefer the flavored vaping products,” she says.

She adds that banning flavored vapes to protect the youth is a flawed approach that neglects the diversity of ages and races of people who use the product for harm reduction. The emphasis on “what about the kids," she says, tends to lead to emotionally-based drug policies.

Feldman has seen a similar dilemma with other substances in Philadelphia, where smoking is not allowed in city-funded inpatient drug facilities. This can create a barrier for people who smoke and also use substances like opioids, she says, as they may not want to give up smoking in order to seek help, or they may leave the facility too early and against medical advice if they feel an urge to smoke.

Instead of banning e-cigarette products altogether, Feldman suggests limiting youth access to vapes and increasing education about risks.

Onugha agrees that banning products does often encourage illegal production and sales. Even without a ban, some kids can whip up vapes in their garages, he says.

“Ultimately, I think it should just be banned altogether,” Onugha says. “The problem is, [with] public policy when you ban certain things or restrict them, then you create the black market. So I leave that decision to the FDA about how they want to handle it.”

What This Means For You

The FDA denied millions of marketing applications for vape products, but delayed its decision on the ones made by leading companies. Health experts say vaping could potentially help smokers quit traditional cigarettes, but it carries many health risks.

By Claire Wolters
Claire Wolters is a staff reporter covering health news for Verywell. She is most passionate about stories that cover real issues and spark change.