President Trump recently convened a meeting at the White House to discuss the problem of underage vaping and the future of the vapor category. It was an extraordinary session, bringing together representatives from the industry and the public health community, activists, and government leaders, for a frank and far-ranging dialogue. Our company, JUUL Labs, was privileged to participate.
Not surprisingly, this diverse group of participants offered conflicting perspectives on some issues, especially the key topic of the FDA’s pending flavor policy. We believe the FDA’s PMTA process is the best way to assess the positive role that flavored products can play in helping adult smokers move away from combustible cigarettes, while also being kept out of the hands of youth. JUUL Labs’ position can be seen through our actions – this is a topic we are not lobbying the Administration on, and we now only sell Tobacco and Menthol products in the U.S. We will support and comply with the FDA’s flavor policy when effective.
It is no less important to note the broad areas of consensus that emerged, as they offer a solid foundation for future policymaking.
First, there was agreement that it is time to raise the legal age to purchase all tobacco products, including vapor products, to 21+ nationwide. For decades, the vast majority of Americans have lived in states where the legal age of purchase was under 21, usually 18 years of age. That means that teenagers who are still high school seniors can legally buy these products, and then bring them onto campuses to share with, or sell to, their younger classmates. According to some studies, this type of “social sourcing” accounts for 65-85% of all youth access. Now, Congress appears poised to make 21 the age of purchase nationally. This would be an important step in dramatically reducing underage access.
Second, agreement existed around the need to do more about counterfeits and unauthorized compatible products that are already flooding the U.S. market by the tens of millions. These products will continue to proliferate, especially as access to legitimate flavored vapor products, currently used by about 12 million Americans, continues to be restricted. As the President pointed out, black market products could carry significant dangers to users. They are produced with unknown quality standards and ingredients and come in youth-appealing flavors. Therefore, strong enforcement is needed to help eliminate these unlawful products from the marketplace.
Third, meeting participants expressed wide support for establishing clear, rigorous product and quality standards for vapor products. As adult smokers look to vapor products as alternatives to combustible cigarettes, they deserve to know that the legitimate brands being sold in stores they trust are manufactured according to high standards that are strictly enforced.
In future conversations with policymakers and stakeholders, we will continue to reiterate our support for raising the minimum age to 21, promoting high product standards, and broad and effective enforcement against counterfeit and compatible products.
While those in attendance at the White House meeting will never agree on every issue, we hope we can collaborate on these three key steps to preserve the historic opportunity for adult smokers to transition away from combustible cigarettes. Together, we must reset the vapor category and reduce underage use. If we don’t, we will lose a historic opportunity to reduce the harm caused by smoking.