The Trump administration announced a plan Wednesday to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, which have proven wildly popular with teens, amid rising health concerns, bringing cheers from youth health groups and a mixed reaction from the vaping industry.
The decision comes as health professionals investigate hundreds of mysterious lung illnesses among people who’ve used the devices. Originally touted as an aid to nicotine-addicted smokers looking to quit, e-cigarettes have emerged as a major public-health issue.
“People are dying with vaping. So we’re looking at it very closely,” Mr. Trump said in the Oval Office, citing the recent deaths from vaping-related lung illnesses.
“Vaping has become a very big business,” Mr. Trump said, alongside first lady Melania Trump, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless. “But we can’t allow people to get sick, and we can’t have our youth be so affected.”
Mr. Trump also cited 13-year-old son Barron and the first lady, who recently tweeted concerns over children and vaping.
“I mean, she’s got a son — together — that is a beautiful, young man, and she feels very, very strongly about it,” he said.
Preliminary data from the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey show that more than a quarter of high school students reported using e-cigarettes within the preceding 30 days, according to the Health and Human Services Department.
“The Trump administration is making it clear that we intend to clear the market of flavored e-cigarettes to reverse the deeply concerning epidemic of youth e-cigarette use that is impacting children, families, schools and communities,” Mr. Azar said.
The ban won’t take effect right away.
Mr. Azar said it will take a few weeks for the Health and Human Services Department to flesh out its enforcement plans and details. After that, there will be a 30-day period for companies to remove flavored e-cigs from the market.
Flavored e-cig makers will be able to apply for FDA approval of their products, but they’d have to be off the market until then.
Defenders of e-cigarettes argue that vaping is a safer alternative to regular cigarettes, which contain various toxins, and are a great way for traditional smokers to kick the habit. Mr. Azar said that’s why the administration wants to keep tobacco-flavored e-cigs on the market.
Federal law already prohibits e-cigarette sales, along with tobacco purchases, to people under 18. Under a 2009 law, all flavored cigarettes except menthol are also banned.
But vaping products with sweet flavors such as fruit and mint have been blamed for the alarming rise in youth vaping. An estimated 3.6 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes last year, up from 2.1 million the previous year, according to federal health agencies.
According to one government survey, more than 80 percent of underage e-cigarette users say they chose their product because it “comes in flavors that I like.”
Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, said he is “deeply disappointed” in the president’s decision to try to ban the sale of nearly every vaping product on the market.
“A ban will remove life-changing options from the market that have been used by several million American adults to quit smoking,” Mr. Conley said. “In the history of the United States, prohibition has never worked. It didn’t work with alcohol. It hasn’t worked with marijuana. It won’t work with e-cigarettes.”
He added Mr. Trump should meet with one of the millions of American voters who have used flavors to quit smoking before advancing his “draconian approach” to regulation and public policy.
The Vapor Technology Association expressed similar thoughts Wednesday and urged Mr. Trump not to follow the lead of San Francisco, which banned e-cigarettes in June, and the “far left anti-business extremists” leading opposition to vaping.
“Banning flavors would be a public health travesty,” the VTA said, claiming that a federal ban will force more than 10 million adults to choose between smoking traditional tobacco products or finding what they need on the black market.
However Juul Labs, a leading e-cigarette company, said in a statement that “we strongly agree with the need for aggressive category-wide action on flavored products. We will fully comply with the final FDA policy when effective.”
Juul is under investigation from the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission for its marketing practices targeting younger users.
The VTA also said government overreach will shut down thousands of small businesses, and claimed there has been no indication that industry-standard nicotine-containing vapor products are responsible for the recent cases of lung illnesses. At least some are known to involve marijuana vaping.
States have so far reported more than 450 cases of respiratory illness and six deaths tied to vaping. Federal health officials said they do not yet know what’s causing the spate of illness.
Both Michigan and New York have recently introduced state-level bans of flavored e-cigarettes.
While the vaping industry decried Mr. Trump’s latest move against e-cigarettes, health advocacy groups said the decision was a necessary and long-overdue step to address youth e-cigarette use.
“This is a public health crisis and we cannot afford more delays in confronting it. It has taken far too long to stop Juul and other e-cigarettes companies from targeting our nation’s kids with sweet-flavored, nicotine-loaded products that are addicting a new generation and threaten decades of progress in reducing youth tobacco use,” the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said. “We urge the Administration not to back down in the face of the inevitable pressure from Juul and other manufacturers.”
Dr. Julian Guitron, a thoracic surgeon and physician for the University of Cincinnati, said he is delighted to see that attention to e-cigarette use, which has reached its highest level, and called the flavor ban a step in the right direction.
“It is imperative that all focus be put into the vaping situation to avoid any more needless loss of life. Banning flavored products is a good first step, but there is no question that a thorough situation investigation has to be conducted. We are in a situation today that could have been averted by common sense regulation that didn’t take place,” he said.
The American Vaping Association estimates there are 8,000 to 10,000 vape shops or tobacco shops in the U.S. that feature e-cigs, of which more than 500 are registered with the FDA. More than 15,000 e-cigarette flavors are available on the market, according to health advocacy groups.
Scientists agree that e-cigarettes, which generally heat a nicotine-containing liquid, don’t contain most of the carcinogenic byproducts of burning tobacco. But because vaping is such a recent phenomenon, almost nothing is known about its long-term effects.