LAKEVILLE, Minn. -- The recent announcement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that the agency may seek to limit the kinds of retail stores that can sell flavored e-cigarettes focuses on the issue of youth access to tobacco products. What the FDA announcement does not propose is any action to restrict the primary source relied on by minors to obtain tobacco products, especially electronic cigarettes. This primary avenue relied on by underage youth is what is known as “social sources.”
These social sources include older friends, adult-age siblings, parents and even strangers. In fact, in 2016, the FDA published the findings of the agency’s Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) Study, which demonstrated that the vast majority of underage youth obtain access to tobacco from nonretail sources.
According to the PATH study findings, minors rely on social sources and use various methods to obtain access to electronic cigarettes 89.5% of the time. The methods relied on by these underage youths to get electronic cigarettes from social sources include giving an adult-age person money to buy the products, asking someone for a tobacco product, being offered a tobacco product by someone else and stealing the products from a person or a store.
Retailers agree that underage youth should not use tobacco products of any kind, including electronic cigarettes. However, because access is one of the key issues that allows minors to use e-cigarettes, retailers have proven through compliance checks sponsored and funded by the FDA that they are like a firewall that helps to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of kids. That is, retailers are not the problem but part of the solution in preventing access to electronic cigarettes.
To propose that the sale of electronic cigarettes or any other kind of tobacco product be limited to a particular kind of store is contrary to a provision of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the law that was passed by Congress that authorized the FDA to regulate tobacco products. Specifically, while this law grants the FDA to adopt regulations on the sale and access of tobacco products to protect the public health, Congress included a specific limitation that the FDA is not allowed to adopt a restriction that bans the sale of any tobacco product in a face-to-face (i.e., non-self-service) transaction by a specific category of retail store. Applying this provision to the potential action being considered by the FDA, this section of the federal law should prevent the FDA from banning sales of flavored e-cigarettes in a particular kind of store.
With the problem of social sources acknowledged within the industry and by the FDA itself through the PATH study, the question is what kind of solutions should be considered to address the problem. NATO believes that education is one of the most powerful tools for reducing youth access to and use of tobacco products. Adults need to be educated about the importance of not acting as a source of tobacco products of any kind for underage youth.
Thomas A. Briant is executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO). He can be reached at (866) 869-8888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.