The FDA just authorized a vape and I'm confused

Vapes are ... bad, right?

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Up in Smoke

In a bizarre plot twist — given the overwhelming evidence that vapes are terrible — the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just authorized three e-cigarette products made by R.J. Reynolds. The FDA’s authorization is based on the belief that the benefits of these products (to help adults quit smoking real cigarettes) outweigh the possible risk to teens. These vapes, from a company called Vuse, come in tobacco flavors, which are supposedly less appealing to children and non-smokers, CNN reported.

If you’re confused why the agency responsible for guiding Americans about what’s safe to put in our bodies is seemingly greenlighting products that essentially let you freebase a potentially toxic substance, you’re not alone. Most experts agree that vapes aren’t safe for everyone. Vaping is believed to be particularly dangerous for young people because it has been shown to change brain development and affect young lungs in ways that we actually can’t predict the consequences of. This authorization though is supposedly a move towards dissuading teens from vaping — by making flavors they don’t like — while still allowing adults to get their fix. This decision comes as the FDA continues to weigh the consumer fate of other devices like Juul.

So, then, how is it that vape companies finally convinced the FDA that vapes are “healthy?” It’s important to note that authorization doesn’t mean the same thing as approval or endorsement, which FDA representatives were quick to clarify. "While today's action permits the tobacco products to be sold in the U.S., it does not mean these products are safe or 'FDA approved.' All tobacco products are harmful and addictive and those who do not use tobacco products should not start," the FDA said in a statement.

This new authorization means R.J. Reynolds can legally sell these products in the U.S. But, you might be thinking, can’t you already buy vapes — including Vuse — basically anywhere, including TikTok? You are correct — vapes have been readily available in the U.S. for about a decade. But until recently, they have been totally unregulated by the FDA. Last year, the FDA announced that vape manufacturers would have to apply for permission to sell their vapes, reported the Washington Post.

The deadline for vape companies to apply to the FDA was September 9th, and they have already refused authorization to a number of vape makers, reported the Post. One of the biggest complaints about the vaping industry is that it has been wooing young people with candy-flavored products. What is seemingly different about these Vuse vapes — when compared to the vapes that were not granted authorization — is that they are only available in tobacco flavors. In other words, no more gummy bear slushie vapes.

I imagine R.J. Reynolds is pretty pleased about this authorization, since it’s the first time that the FDA has authorized a vape product. In a statement released by the company, a representative said that this authorization ensures that adult nicotine consumers have access to innovative and potentially less harmful alternatives to traditional tobacco products.

Despite their best intentions, the FDA’s decision sends mixed messages about how safe vaping really is. Some vaping companies are banking on this confusion and rebranding themselves as “tobacco harm reduction” companies, but many medical experts believe that e-cigs fall short of that very dignified label.