DENVER -- The Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on e-cigarette makers who have done little to keep their products out of the hands of kids.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb called the use of e-cigarettes by kids -- an epidemic.
He said e-cigarette manufacturers must do more to protect youth.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 3 of every 100 middle school students (3.3%) reported in 2017 that they used electronic cigarettes in the past 30 days -- an increase from 0.6% in 2011.
The CDC says nearly 12 of every 100 high school students (11.7%) reported in 2017 that they used electronic cigarettes in the past 30 days, an increase from 1.5% in 2011.
One of the manufacturers, JUUL Labs, placed a full page ad in the Sunday Denver Post warning parents about the danger of nicotine.
It’s a danger that Julien Lavandier knows first-hand.
The 21-year old CSU student told Denver7 that he started smoking e-cigarettes when he was 15 or 16.
“While I was enjoying the flavors and doing smoke tricks,” he said, “I didn’t realize I was building this addiction to nicotine.”
Lavandier said that over time, he realized he "needed to vape” every day.
“I would get mood swings, headaches and migraines," he said. "I’d get sweats. My whole demeanor changed.”
Warning Letters, Fines
Earlier this month, the FDA sent more than 1,300 warning letters, and issued monetary fines, to retailers that illegally sold JUUL and other e-cigarette products to minors during an undercover sting operation this past summer.
The government agency said it may require manufacturers to remove some, or all, of their flavored products from store shelves, until they receive “pre-market” authorization.
Gottlieb said it’s the flavors that help lure young people to the product.
Lavandier’s girlfriend, Jacee Dastrup, agrees.
“It’s a lot harder to quit, because you have these awesome flavors like Mango, cucumbers and mint,” she said.
The Real Cost
That’s why the FDA has launched a new campaign, called The Real Cost, to warn kids about the dangers of vaping.
The campaign includes online ads and photos that can be placed in school restrooms, where much of the vaping takes place.
“Vaping can deliver nicotine to your brain,” one ad states, “reprogramming you to crave more and more. Don’t get hacked.”
Lavandier and Dastrup both told Denver7 they’d like to see more research done on the effects of vaping.
“We’ve heard that it may cause popcorn lung,” Lavandier said.
Popcorn lung is a scarring of smaller airways in lung tissue, that can lead to breathing difficulty.
“That’s kind of scary,” Dastrup said. “I’m only 19 years old and the idea of having popcorn lung in 10 years kind of creeps me out a bit.”
Lavandier said the FDA's crackdown and education campaigns may work short term, but he doubts they will last.
“It’s like cops and robbers,” he said. “We’ll always create new legislation and impose new regulations on these companies, but they’ll just develop new products that bypass these regulations.”
Gottlieb said while the new “smokeless” tobacco products may reduce harm to current adult smokers, who are trying to transition off regular cigarettes, “we won’t tolerate a whole generation of young people becoming addicted to nicotine as a trade-off for enabling adults to have unfettered access to these same products.”