WASHINGTON — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration put out its first TV ads focused on e-cigarette prevention.
The effort is part of the FDA’s “The Real Cost” youth e-cigarette prevention campaign, a $60 million initiative that launched last year through social media, digital content and posters at high schools nationwide. The campaign aims to reach almost 10.7 million students ages 12 to 17 who might be at risk of vaping or have already started.
The new ads feature street magician and social media personality Julius Dein performing illusions with people’s vapes by appearing to turn them into traditional cigarettes. The FDA said they will run on networks including TeenNick, the CW, MTV and ESPN, in addition to streaming and social media sites.
“As our new ads state: ‘it’s not magic, it’s statistics,’ ” Dr. Ned Sharpless, the FDA’s acting commissioner, said in a statement Monday. “And the potential for kids to become traditional cigarette smokers because of e-cigarettes gives me great pause.”
The FDA revealed last year that vaping had increased nearly 80% among high schoolers and 50% among middle schoolers since the year prior, jumping to 3.6 million students total. Experts worry that e-cigarettes could put kids’ developing brains at risk, get them hooked on nicotine early in life, and be a gateway to smoking and other drugs.
The FDA said its vaping-focused digital campaign has racked up almost 2 billion views by teens and hundreds of thousands of likes on social media, resulting in increased traffic to Smokefree Teen, a quitting resource from the National Cancer Institute.
A previous “The Real Cost” campaign focused on cigarette smoking was estimated to have prevented 350,000 11- to 18-year-olds from smoking in the United States from 2014 to 2016, according to earlier research.
As the FDA faces pressure to regulate e-cigarettes and prevent vaping among youth, Sharpless said the new TV ads are just one piece of the puzzle.
“We will continue to work to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of America’s kids through policies to limit youth access to, and appeal of, e-cigarette products, take vigorous compliance and enforcement actions to hold manufacturers and retailers accountable when they illegally market or sell these products to minors, and continue to spearhead highly successful public education efforts to warn youth about the dangers of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.”
This month, a U.S. district court judge ruled that the FDA would require e-cigarette makers to submit premarket applications within 10 months. The ruling came as part of a lawsuit filed by health groups against the agency for delaying a review of the safety and health impact of e-cigarettes and cigars.
An earlier ruling in May concluded that, in 2017, the agency acted illegally by allowing e-cigarettes to remain on the market until 2022 before companies applied for FDA authorization and by permitting products to remain on the market indefinitely during review, according to a joint statement by the plaintiffs.
The latest court decision came on the heels of the FDA issuing its final guidance last month for e-cigarette makers to submit premarket tobacco product applications, giving these companies a clearer path to seek official authorization to market their products.
In a statement last week on the recent court ruling, Sharpless said “the FDA stands ready to accelerate the review of e-cigarettes and other new tobacco products.”