The Food and Drug Administration is launching a first-of-its-kind public service campaign against youth vaping on Tuesday that will try new ways of reaching young people who have become hooked on nicotine.
The FDA will place ads in 10,000 school bathrooms and on websites, officials said. The agency will use geo-fencing, which allows marketers to reach people within specific locations, to reach populations around middle and high schools.
The new campaign comes days after FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb's declaration last week that youth vaping has become an "epidemic."
Gottlieb announced a crackdown on vape retailers and a possible ban on flavored e-liquid if five of the largest manufacturers can't come up with adequate plans to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of those under age 18.
“The Real Cost” campaign targets nearly 10.7 million young people ages 12 to 17 who have used e-cigarettes or are open to trying them.
Posters will appear in the thousands of school bathrooms, Gottlieb says, because that's "a place we know many teens are using e-cigarettes or faced with the peer pressure to do so."
The "hard-hitting" advertising, which will detail the dangerous chemicals that e-cigarettes can contain, will also appear on social media and websites that are popular with teens, including YouTube, Pandora and Instagram.
One series of videos attempts to show the chemicals spreading like a snake-like creature through the body. Another, which shows young people's mouths replaced by devices, emphasizes how nicotine reprograms the brain to crave more.
Vaping was conceived as a way to help adult smokers quit by providing a nicotine fix without the carcinogenic properties of smoking.
But fruit and other kid-friendly flavors and compact, stylish e-cigarette designs have drawn youth to vaping, and public health officials have noted big upticks over the last couple of years.
More than 2 million middle school, high school and college students use the battery-powered devices to heat liquid-based nicotine into an inhalable vapor, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2017 National Youth Tobacco Survey.
E-cigarettes are by far the most popular tobacco product among teens: Nearly 12 percent of high school students and 3 percent of middle school students used the device in the past 30 days, according to the CDC survey.
But preliminary federal data shows vaping by high school students is up by about 75 percent this year, which would translate into use by more than 20 percent of this age group.
Making matters worse, nearly all tobacco trends among youth are "moving in the wrong direction," Gottlieb told USA TODAY on Monday. That includes use of traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products.
Because of this, the agency plans to rush publication of the 2018 youth tobacco report this year, Gottlieb says, and will release it within the next two months.
Kids who use e-cigarettes are more likely to try traditional cigarettes, Gottlieb says.
"And that jeopardizes the extraordinary public health gains we’ve made in reducing smoking rates in this nation." he said.
The FDA said last week it is investigating whether manufacturers of certain e-cigarettes are selling new products that weren't on the market on Aug. 8, 2016.
Products introduced after that date must be subjected to a rigorous scientific review process before they are approved.
A coalition of public health groups including the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids said last month that some major manufacturers have been flouting that mandate.
The FDA says it is considering ways to make tobacco products "less toxic, appealing and addictive," especially to youth.
The agency says this could include eliminating flavors and product designs that appeal to young people and adding child-resistant packaging and new labeling.
The new ad campaign is funded by user fees collected from the tobacco industry – not taxpayers, FDA said. When tested with focus groups, the campaign was one of the most effective tobacco-related campaigns the agency has even done, Gottlieb says.