The battle between the vaping industry and the FDA continues to rage and has been fueled by recent comments from Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, who suggested that minors are being targeted by vape shops and vaporizer manufacturers.

Murthy’s comments have drawn a quick response from the vaping community.

In August of 2016, the new “deeming” regulations of the Food and Drug Administration took effect. Those regulations were heralded by the FDA as a weapon to fight vape shops that sell to minors. Yet, when the FDA recently released a list of establishments that had been caught selling to minors there wasn’t a single vape shop on the list—329 businesses were given staunch warnings by the FDA, but none of them were vape shops.

This alone would seem to refute the Surgeon General’s comments, but there is even greater evidence that the number of teen vapers is actually dropping.

The annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) study conducted by the University of Michigan released in December found that the number of minors who vape dropped from 29.9 percent in 2015 to 26.6 percent in 2016. Furthermore, more than 70 percent of minors who stated that they vaped also reported that their preferred e-juice containing no nicotine.

The MTF survey also found that traditional tobacco use was down among minors.

These findings are a direct contradiction of figures cited by Murthy in his statement. Those who advocate vaping as an alternative to tobacco use are beginning to question the motivations of public health officials and the FDA.

The FDA stepped up its regulation of both traditional tobacco stores and vape shops in 2009 after the passage of the Tobacco Control Act. This legislation gave the FDA far-reaching powers to fine retailers that sell cigarettes or vaping devices and e-juices to minors. The FDA subsequently began a sting which, to date, has resulted in more than 600,000 retail inspections. From those inspections, 50,000 warning letters were issued and more than 8,000 retailers were fined.

Not a single letter or fine was given to a vape shop.

Some logical questions present themselves in the wake of this information. Are vape shops doing a better job of checking identification than traditional tobacco stores?

The FDA regulations stipulate checking identification of anyone who appears to be under the age of 27. It is certainly possible that vape shops are carding people more often, especially since the vaping demographic does tend to be younger overall.

The other question involves speculation about the competency of the FDA.

If the FDA is doing a thorough job and vape shops do regularly sell to minors, why haven’t any vape retailers been caught? There are only two possible answers. Either the FDA is doing a poor job or vape shops really aren’t selling to minors.

Given the results of the MTF survey, the latter is a more reasonable explanation.

While it may be unreasonable to suggest that a minor has never bought a vaping device or e-juice from a vape shop, the decrease in minors who vape reported by the MTF could indicate that minors are finding it difficult to locate a retailer that will sell to them.

Vape shops also have more to lose if caught by the FDA. Many retailers that sell tobacco also sell other products which account for far more of their total sales. If caught repeatedly, the FDA can levy a “no tobacco sale” order.

It it interesting to note that many of the stores caught in the FDA sting were retail giants like Wal-Mart. In contrast, a vape shop sells only vaping products and accessories. A similar order could effectively put them out of business.

Related: Why Does Vaping Keep Getting Banned?

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