Youth Use of Disposable E-Cigarettes Increasing Due to Loophole in Flavored Vape Ban

Jon Hart, Ph.D.

This month’s guest blog is from Jon Hart, Ph.D., Director of the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline and Licensed Health Service Psychologist.

As the youth vaping epidemic skyrocketed and EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury) surfaced last fall, the FDA responded to the dual crises by announcing it would ban vapes with mint, dessert and fruit flavors. These flavors are most effective at disguising nicotine’s bitter taste and are especially appealing to youth. The FDA’s objective – reducing the number of youth who vape – is showing early signs of success. The newly released 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) found about 1.8 million fewer U.S. youth are using e-cigarettes compared to 2019. However, the 3.6 million youth who currently vape are still accessing flavored nicotine products due to a loophole in the new ban.

The ban only prohibits these flavors in refillable cartridge-based e-cigarettes like Juul. Disposable, single-use e-cigarettes like Posh, Stig and blu were not included in the measure and may still contain these flavors. Some of these inexpensive, pre-charged, pre-filled devices have an even higher nicotine level than Juul.

Using tactics straight out of the Big Tobacco playbook, disposable e-cigarette manufacturers use child and youth-oriented marketing (product names include cotton candy and banana ice) to attract users. As a result, since the ban was put in place 10 months ago, the market share of disposable products nearly doubled. From August 2019 – May 2020, the proportion of total sales of disposable products increased from 10.3% to 19.8%. This corresponded with a decline in refillable cartridge products (like Juul) from 89.4% of the market to 80.2% during the same time period.

Another major FDA loophole allowed menthol to remain on-market for all categories of e-cigarettes. Mint, one of the banned flavors, and menthol are chemically very similar – menthol is actually derived from the mint plant. When mint-flavored pods were removed from the vape market, youth simply shifted to menthol, a very similar option. The NYTS showed that from August 2019 to May 2020, sales of pre-filled vape pods flavored with menthol increased from only 10.7% of total sales to an astonishing 61.8%.

Vaping poses a serious health risk to everyone, especially youth. Nicotine is highly addictive and, in addition to lung damage, can harm adolescent brain development. Youth who vape are more likely than their peers to end up using traditional tobacco products. Since 2014, e-cigarette use has skyrocketed, and they remain the most popular nicotine product among American teens.

The Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline is a free service for Oklahomans wanting to help themselves, loved ones, patients or employees live tobacco free. Funding is primarily provided by the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, in partnership with the Oklahoma State Department of Health, Oklahoma Health Care Authority, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline has served 450,000 Oklahomans since 2003 and has been ranked among the top quit-lines for reaching tobacco users seeking treatment for the last 10 years by the North American Quitline Consortium.

My Life My Quit is a free program to specifically help Oklahoma teens (ages 13-17) quit tobacco, including e-cigarettes. My Life My Quit supports teens through the steps of quitting tobacco and living tobacco-free by using free, teen-friendly tools like chatting over text, web, or phone. These free services for Oklahoma teens can be found at or by texting “Start My Quit” to 855-891-9989.

Published by Tobacco Stops With Me on September 24, 2020