Lawmakers applaud Trump’s ban on flavored e-cigarettes
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill largely applauded the Trump administration’s plan to ban all nontobacco flavors of e-cigarettes, with some saying the move is long overdue.
On Wednesday, top administration health officials said they are finalizing a ban on all flavors of e-cigarettes in response to a massive spike in underage vaping.
“We can’t have our youth be so affected,” President Trump said. “People are dying with vaping, so we’re looking at it very closely.”
Members from both parties have been turning up the heat on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), calling for flavor bans, marketing restrictions and even a complete recall of all e-cigarettes.
That congressional pressure stemmed from statistics showing youth vaping has skyrocketed in the past year, driven largely by teenagers becoming drawn to sweet and fruit-flavored e-cigarette pods easily accessible in stores.
Federal figures show a 78 percent increase in e-cigarette use among high school students in just one year. The FDA, which has struggled to keep up on the regulatory front, has called the rise an “epidemic.”
Most lawmakers applauded Trump’s move, saying it was further proof that the e-cigarette market needs more federal oversight.
“With an e-cigarette epidemic in our schools, this action is long overdue but welcome,” said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, whose state recently reported a vaping-related death.
Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, has been one of the top critics of what he said was the FDA’s inaction on e-cigarettes.
Last week, he wrote a scathing letter to the agency, threatening to call for the resignation of acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless if no concrete actions were taken within 10 days.
In a floor speech shortly after Wednesday’s announcement from the administration, Durbin praised the effort.
“We are making it clear in the United States of America that we know that vaping targets kids,” Durbin said. “I salute the administration for its leadership.”
The move to ban flavors comes as at least 450 cases of a mysterious respiratory condition have been reported across 33 states. The severity of the cases vary, but six people have died.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said anyone who uses a vaping product should consider stopping while public health officials investigate.
Results from the CDC’s 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey have not yet been made public, but according to the Department of Health and Human Services, preliminary data shows that more than a quarter of high school students are current e-cigarette users in 2019 and the overwhelming majority of youth e-cigarette users cited the use of popular fruit and menthol or mint flavors.
Trump made the announcement in an Oval Office meeting, flanked by first lady Melania Trump, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Sharpless. The event was not previously announced.
The FDA is working on releasing final guidance to implement the ban, but Azar said it will take several weeks.
He said that after a 30-day effective date, all flavored e-cigarettes would be removed from the market, pending FDA approval. Manufacturers of tobacco flavors would have to file for approval by May 2020, Azar said.
“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,” Azar said in a statement.
The vaping industry was quick to push back.
“Flavored vaping products are one of the most effective smoking cessation tools on the market,” the Vapor Technology Association said in a statement.
“There has been no indication that industry standard nicotine-containing vapor products are to blame for recent cases of lung illness. In fact, FDA investigators found that cannabis or THC products were likely the cause.”
Most e-cigarette brands sold in the U.S. are legal, but none of them have been subject to FDA review, leaving a regulatory gray area as more and more products flood the market.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he was not given a heads-up about the White House announcement on Wednesday, but offered his support for the administration’s actions.
Grassley said that while he wants to review the FDA guidance when it’s released, he’s glad the administration is taking the youth vaping epidemic seriously.
“Vaping causes deaths and serious illness,” he said. “I’m of the opinion something has to be done.”
But not all GOP senators cheered the administration’s announcement.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said federal officials should work harder to ensure underage kids don’t have access to e-cigarettes, rather than banning them.
And Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said that while “we don’t want children to be using and getting addicted to any substance,” vaping products should remain available to people who need to use them to stay off traditional cigarettes.
“I have heard from so many people that vaping has saved their lives,” he said. “We need to keep that in mind.”
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