Anti-vaping spammers posted more than a quarter of a million comments on the FDA’s public flavor ban consultation in one weekend last month.
It is reported that the online public forum was flooded with 255,000 fake comments in a single weekend, with almost every spam comment asking the FDA to ban e-liquid flavors.
FDA sources described these fraudulent comments as “extraordinary” and “unprecedented”, according to Regulator Watch.
Internet bots entered the quarter million comments between June 8 and June 11, before the FDA finally located the source of the comments and blocked four IP addresses used by the spammers.
Most of the comments were posted without a first or last name and used similar anti-vaping comments including ‘I am a concerned citizen who thinks tobacco flavored products should be banned’ and ‘Please ban JUUL flavored tobacco products.’
The suspicious comments used the same words and phrases over and over again, indicating that they were false.
Some of the same language used in the comments has been used by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, an anti-tobacco interest group.
One comment used identical language to a ‘copy and paste’ campaign letter created by the California Department of Public Health.
It is unclear who is behind the spam submissions, but Regulator Watch suggests that the spam could slow down or even derail the FDA’s consultation.
Each comment must be read and approved by FDA staff. There are currently more than 500,000 submissions waiting to be reviewed.
Regulator Watch also suggested that the spam comments had a slow-down effect on FDA servers, making it harder for genuine posters to comment before and after the attack.
The FDA is reportedly investigating the fraudulent submissions, but has not reached a decision on whether they will be included in the final write-up.
The deadline for making public comments is July 19. Vapers can make sure their voices are heard by submitting an online comment via regulations.gov.
The War on Vape Juice Flavors
The FDA launched a public consultation on its proposed regulation of flavors in tobacco products in March.
The proposed rule change, which would include flavored vape juice as well as flavored cigarettes and cigarillos, could result in a nationwide flavor ban.
Launching the consultation, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said: “We must also consider how best to address flavors in non-combustible products like e-cigarettes – given both their clear appeal to youth but also the potential role certain flavors may play in helping some adult smokers transition to potentially less harmful tobacco products.”
Other city-wide and state-wide bans are already coming into force.
In a public vote in June, 68% of San Francisco residents voted to ban all flavored e-liquids from being sold in the city.
Other cities and states appear to be following suit, with San Francisco’s neighbor San Mateo County also voting for a ban and Chicago lawmakers filing similar proposals.
Legislators in the state of New York are also looking at whether they should ban flavored e-liquids.
Health officials and some legislatures seem hell-bent on large scale flavor bans despite new evidence which shows that flavored e-liquids play a part in helping adult smokers ditch tobacco.
Research published in the Harm Reduction Journal showed that more first time vapers were choosing fruit flavored e-liquids over tobacco-flavored juices.
The number of first-time vapers using fruit-flavored e-liquids increased form 17.8% before 2011 to 22.5% between June 2015 and June 2016.
At the same time, the number of new e-cigarette users making tobacco-flavored purchases almost halved from 46% to 24%.