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E-cigarettes Remain a Pervasive Problem for Youth

Tobacco use among youth in the US is down, but e-cigarettes still pose the greatest challenge to reducing nicotine consumption among middle and high schoolers. These are the findings of the 2017 National Youth Tobacco Survey, released this month by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These findings reinforce the importance of LegitScript’s monitoring expertise to help keep the internet clean of the kinds of merchants that can pose an illegal public health risk.

According to the survey, 3.6 million middle and high school students said in 2017 that they were current tobacco product users, meaning that they had used a tobacco product in the past 30 days. That translates to about one in five high school students, and about one in 18 middle school students. About half of these youth were using two or more products.

The good news is that these numbers represent a decline from 2011’s survey, which reported 4.5 million current tobacco product users in this age category. The challenge for combating tobacco use in youth is with e-cigarettes, which since 2014 have been the most commonly used tobacco product in this demographic — accounting for 2.1 million users.

“These figures are particularly concerning because youth exposure to nicotine — whether it comes from a cigarette or an e-cigarette — affects the developing brain and may rewire it to be more susceptible to nicotine addiction in the future,” wrote FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in an FDA statement about the survey. “And while there was no change in e-cigarette use from 2016 to 2017 among high school-aged teens, it’s too soon to tell whether this represents a leveling off, following a steep decline from 2015 to 2016.”

To help combat youth consumption of e-cigarettes, the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have issued warning letters to companies that have misleadingly labeled or marketed nicotine-containing e-liquids to look similar to kid-friendly products such as juice boxes, candies, and cookies. See the examples below from fda.gov.

These products were cited for misbranding violations. According to the FDA, this kind of labeling causes a product “to imitate a food or beverage, particularly one that is marketed toward, and/or appealing to, children.”

E-commerce plays an important role in minors’ access to tobacco products. According to a 2015 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association, minors were successful in completing online purchases of e-cigarette products more than 90% of the time because of an absence of age-verification measures. This was before the FDA began regulating tobacco products in 2016, but the potential danger of online access remains — now with regulatory scrutiny.

Many payment providers restrict the sale of regulated products, including tobacco, e-cigarettes, and e-liquids. But as technology and marketing strategies constantly change, it may be difficult to easily identify these “smokes” products. LegitScript tracks both e-commerce and regulatory trends to stay abreast of the newest problematic products and merchants. Not only does this serve the needs of our partners by keeping their platforms and portfolios clean, but it does an important public service by helping to restrict youth access to tobacco products.

LegitScript combines technology with human expertise to proactively monitor portfolios for problematic merchants. We alert payment facilitators if their merchants are offering regulated or illegal products such as tobacco and e-liquids. Additionally, we monitor more than 500,000 merchants with a comprehensive database of known bad actors. Contact us to learn more about our merchant monitoring offerings.


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