• April 13, 2024

Panel: Youth Use

 Panel: Youth Use

Youth use is everyone’s responsibility. It’s also the name of the GTNF panel that focused on how to balance preventing youth use with helping combustible cigarette smokers move toward less risky nicotine products. The panel’s moderator, Stacy Ehrlich, partner at Kleinfeld Kaplan and Becker, encouraged panelists to debate whether abstinence is a realistic or appropriate goal when attempting to combat youth use.

“Hopefully, speakers will address that and whether and how to communicate with youth and children about relative risks and progress. I think an interesting question is: Are youth an unintended population for these communications?” said Ehrlich, referring to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s acknowledgment that e-cigarettes are less harmful than combustible cigarettes. “Should we be communicating with underage individuals about consumer risk?”

All the panelists were given the opportunity to make a short presentation. Jasjit Ahluwalia, professor of behavioral and social sciences and professor of medicine at the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at the Brown University School of Public Health and Alpert School of Medicine, said that tobacco addiction is a pediatric disease and noted that many diseases resulting from tobacco use were effectively human caused, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as 95 percent of cases were the result of tobacco use.

He also stated that youth use of tobacco and nicotine was unethical as young people are uninformed consumers. However, he noted that communicating risk to this group was complicated. He said that tobacco prevention campaigns are key.

“This is something that we know [is] important to effectively educate youth,” said Ahluwalia. “I’m mindful of the importance of the issue of spillover … this is, again, a careful area where I think it’s important that we’re mindful of what the impact is on the intended population and mitigating risk for the unintended population, which in this case, I believe is adult smokers that you want to make sure that they’re not scared away from using an e-cigarette that could potentially be beneficial for them to transition completely from combustibles.”

Ahluwalia also highlighted the vast amount of misinformation that had been communicated through anti-vaping/smoking campaigns, noting the role of the media in misrepresenting the science behind vaping products. He stated that the industry needed to focus on innovating safer and better products. He also called for the FDA to approve new smoking cessation medications. Lastly, Ahluwalia stated that a goal of zero youth use was unrealistic and unreasonable.

Brian King, director of the FDA Center for Tobacco Products, explained that youth prevention continued to be a critical part of the FDA’s portfolio since nine out of 10 adult smokers started smoking below the age of 18. He noted that the youth were using a variety of different products, with the use of e-cigarettes being particularly prominent.

“Youth prevention is a key component of FDA’s portfolio … we do see kids using a variety of different products. But right now, the focus is primarily on e-cigarettes,” explained King. “We’ve seen an evolution within even that product class as well, which I think is important for us to consider as we talk about what the inherent risks of these products are, particularly when it comes to dependency. That said, although we’ve seen declines in e-cigarette use, which again, we’ve noticed, is a good thing, among the kids who are currently using e-cigarettes, we’re seeing increased signs of dependency.”

King said the FDA is held by the standard of being “appropriate for the protection of public health.” This is not like the other centers at the FDA, such as the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), which has a “safe and effective standard.” In therapeutics, the CDER wants products to be safe for people to use but also effective at treating the ailment.

“When it comes to tobacco products, the U.S. Congress has given us appropriate for the protection of public health, where we have to weigh the benefits and the risks. That said, the risks are typically focused on youth initiation. And we have made decisions based on that,” King told attendees. “The primary reason you’re seeing a variety of negative actions that have been taken on e-cigarettes is because of the prominent youth use of these products. It certainly is possible to mitigate that risk. For example, we know that youth have very little [interest in] tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes, which are the products that have been authorized to date because that benefit of adults has been able to outweigh the risk of kids.”

Colin Mendelsohn, general practitioner and founding chair of the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association, said that current vaping policy is largely driven by fears over youth vaping. The scientific evidence of vaping is being overlooked. He stated that children should not vape or smoke; however, he acknowledged, it is inevitable that some will. Mendelsohn argued that most youth vaping was experimental, with frequent vaping being rare.

“I think policy around e-cigarettes is largely driven by youth [and] flavor. And I think it should be driven by the evidence, not by emotion and moral values,” he said. “What I’m going to talk about is actual evidence, or at least the best evidence we have today. Kids shouldn’t vape or smoke. They shouldn’t be using alcohol or useless drugs. Of course, they do lots of things they shouldn’t do.”

Mendelsohn said his research showed that only 3 percent of children who had vaped were frequent vapers, with half of those also being smokers. This evidence, he said, showed that vaping was not a gateway to smoking. He said that the opposite was true, and vaping was diverting kids away from smoking combustible cigarettes.

“I think we all agree that vaping is not a significant gateway to smoking,” said Mendelsohn. “If there were a significant gateway, we would expect to see smoking rates going up. And of course, they’re going in the opposite direction. In the U.S., when vapes became popular, smoking rates continued to decline. In fact, they declined faster than they ever had compared to the historical period before 2013 since vaping became available.”

Stefanie Miller, vice president of external engagement at Juul Labs, said one of the reasons why she wanted to join Juul Labs is that she gets to say that Juul has a problem with youth use. “We don’t need to skirt around that. So I’m going to talk to you about what this company has done to successfully deal with youth using the product,” she said. “We took what we consider a three-pillar approach … it has been a productive initiative that we’ve taken …. It’s limiting underage appeal, restricting underage access and enforcing against third parties, enforcing against illicit products.”

Miller said Juul Labs is also using technology and innovation to help in the company’s fight against youth use. However, Juul Labs is also looking at how initiatives that are put in place to prevent youth use impact adults making the switch from combustible cigarettes. “We’re also considering what these interventions would do to make it potentially more difficult for an adult smoker to have access to a less harmful product, which is not the goal of our company,” said Miller. “We’re trying to walk this really careful line, both from the innovation but also the point-of-sale intervention along these three lines.”

Many of the questions coming from the audience were directed at King concerning the FDA premarket tobacco product authorization process. For example, Fadi Maayta, the CEO and co-founder of Alternative Nicotine Delivery Solutions (ANDS), a Dubai-based vaping product manufacturer, asked King to explain why the agency does not do more to incentivize law-abiding players. The FDA’s current penalty framework, he argued, penalizes good and bad players alike.

King said he understood Maayta’s frustration. There are numerous good players in the vaping industry that don’t have the issues of youth uptake, he acknowledged. The reality, however, is that the U.S. Congress wrote the Tobacco Control Act and prescribed very specific processes that the agency is required to do by law, said King.

“That said, the intent is not to penalize everyone … but we do have to follow the law in terms of implementing the regulations that have been required by us. And that includes a premarket tobacco product process and a rigorous scientific assessment …. We also have to enforce the law, and we are a free market paradigm. So there’s no safe harbor. If you don’t have authorization, your product is subject to enforcement compliance,” explained King. “That said, are there opportunities to streamline those processes? Absolutely. And that’s what we’re looking at. There are efficiencies that I think we can gain by looking at our processes to make it more streamlined moving forward.”