Trump administration officials, alarmed by new data showing a huge jump in e-cigarette use by young people, said they are moving to ban most flavored e-cigarettes, a major development that could result in sweeping changes in the sprawling e-cigarette market.
In an Oval Office meeting Wednesday that included First Lady Melania Trump, Health and Human Services Alex Azar and acting Food and Drug Commissioner Norman “Ned” Sharpless, President Trump said, “We can’t allow people to get sick. And we can’t have our kids be so affected.”
He added that the first lady, who on Tuesday tweeted a warning about vaping, feels “very, very strongly” about the issue because of their 13-year-old son Barron.
Azar said the administration intends to “clear the market” of flavored e-cigarettes to reverse a worsening vaping epidemic. He said preliminary data from the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed a continued, troubling rise in youth e-cigarette use. The data showed more than than a quarter of high school students have used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days – up from a little over a fifth in 2018. The overwhelming majority of students said they used fruity or menthol or mint flavors.
The administration’s move comes as health officials across the country investigate more than 450 cases, including six deaths, of lung disease linked to vaping. Many patients have reported using cannabis-related products, but authorities have not ruled out any specific type of vaping. With the picture still murky, vaping critics have seized the moment to press for tougher regulation of conventional e-cigarettes, which come in sweet and fruity flavors that have been embraced by many young people.
Azar said the Food and Drug Administration is working to finalize a plan on flavored e-cigarettes in the next several weeks that would likely take effect a month after that. The policy, he said, would require the removal from the market of most flavored-e-cigarettes, including mint and menthol. The flavored products would not be allowed back on the market until – and if – they receive specific approval from the FDA.
The policy being developed wouldn’t affect tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes, whose manufacturers would have until next May to file for approval. People on both sides of the issue said that the industry might sue FDA to try to block the policy.
Matt Myers, president of the anti-tobacco group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the plan is a “long way from the finish line,” but added, “if, in fact, they pull flavored e-cigarettes from the market it is an extraordinary step in the face of a real crisis.” He said that flavored e-cigarettes are fueling an epidemic of youth e-cigarette use “which apparently has gotten dramatically worse over the last year.”
The Vapor Technology Administration, an industry group, said it would be a “public health travesty” to ban flavored e-cigarettes. Such “government overreach,” the group said, will result in the closure of thousands of small vape shops and force many Americans “to switch back to deadly cigarettes.” Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, a consumer group, warned, “In the history of the United States, prohibition has never worked.”
The administration move comes as states, communities and members of Congress called tougher e-cigarette regulation. “Vaping targets kids, and these flavors-mint, menthol, gummy bear, Unicorn Milk, lung candy-have been essential to the industry luring children into this new addiction,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who recently told Sharpless to ban flavors or resign as commissioner. “Finally, the FDA is doing its job.”
Currently, e-cigarette products do not have FDA approval; rather, they are marketed under an FDA called “enforcement discretion.”
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