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FDA gives its 1st authorization for e-cigarettes


The FDA has given a green light to the maker of a popular e-cigarette brand, allowing it to stay on the market. It is the first authorization of its kind, and it comes as the FDA is still deliberating on whether JUUL and other e-cigarette products can be sold. NPR's Allison Aubrey joins us now with more.

Hey, Allison.


CHANG: All right, so let's start with the brand that's gotten the green light for now. Tell us more about what the FDA is saying about this decision.

AUBREY: Well, the agency has authorized the marketing of three products. They're made by R.J. Reynolds Vapor Company. They're sold under the brand name Vuse. These are e-cigarettes sold with e-liquid pods and replacement cartridges. Basically, the FDA said the company had submitted data to show that the tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes could benefit addicted adult smokers and help them quit cigarettes. This was the original rationale for e-cigarettes - that they were less harmful than smoking and were a way to kind of reduce the risks, and the FDA is basically saying this product has made the case successfully.

CHANG: But the thing is anti-smoking advocates have been calling on the FDA to completely remove flavored e-cigarettes from the market, including ones that have tobacco flavoring, not just the ones with sweet flavors, right?

AUBREY: Well, I think that the big goal of the advocates has been to get e-cigarettes away from teens, right? There is some indecision about whether e-cigarettes help adult smokers quit smoking. There's sort of been evidence both ways. So in terms of, you know, those who've been fighting this, so far some say it's a positive step that the FDA has been denying marketing applications for some of the flavored products. And they say that the decision today is concerning, given that Vuse tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes have become more popular with teens. A recent survey found that about 2 million middle and high school kids report using e-cigarettes. Among them, about 11% said they use Vuse, that it's their go-to brand. The FDA says it looked at the likelihood that young people would use this brand and determined that the potential benefit to smokers who reduce their cigarette use would outweigh the risk to youth.

CHANG: OK. Well, as we mentioned, the FDA is still deliberating on whether other e-cigarette brands can stay on the market, including JUUL. Are they likely to come to a decision on all of that soon, you think?

AUBREY: Yeah. I mean, e-cigarette makers have known for a while that the FDA was reviewing their products to determine if they could stay on the market. This was going slowly, so advocacy groups sued. Bottom line - the agency's been under this court-imposed deadline to make some decisions, and they say they're working through them as quickly as possible. They have already denied applications for companies that market flavors such as apple crumble, cinnamon toast crunch. These are clearly designed to appeal to kids or teenagers. A big question now is what the agency will do about menthol, which is very popular. JUUL does market a menthol product, and many health organizations have asked the FDA to just reject JUUL's application. Here is Erika Sward of the American Lung Association.

ERIKA SWARD: We would oppose any JUUL product remaining on the market. The history and their actions are clear that they're interested in addicting a new generation. And no your product, whether it be tobacco-flavored or menthol-flavored, should be allowed to remain on the market.

AUBREY: Now, JUUL is making the case that they are focused on helping adult smokers quit cigarettes and that they don't market to teens. There's evidence the brand is less popular with kids now. The most recent survey found about 10 - 5% of teens, rather, who vape use JUUL as their go-to brand. I'd say the FDA could announce a decision really anytime now.

CHANG: That is NPR's Allison Aubrey.

Thank you, Alison.

AUBREY: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF REAL ESTATE'S "KINDER BLUMEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.