Trump pressed to follow through on vaping crackdown

Trump pressed to follow through on vaping crackdown
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate US sending 20,000 troops to Europe for largest exercises since Cold War Barr criticizes FBI, says it's possible agents acted in 'bad faith' in Trump probe MORE is under pressure to follow through on his promise to remove all flavored e-cigarettes from the market. 

Lawmakers from both parties initially applauded when Trump and federal health officials made the announcement last month that they would restrict the sale of all non-tobacco flavors of e-cigarettes. 

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Trump cited a massive spike in teen vaping and the spread of a mysterious illness that has now sickened more than 1,600 people across the country and killed at least 34. 

But more than a month after Trump and health officials sat in the Oval Office and announced their intentions, the administration has yet to publish any guidelines. 

Mitch Zeller, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s tobacco program, told reporters last week that the rule is a “very, very high priority, and we’re trying to complete work on it as quickly as possible.”

But the administration has also been taking heat from the right, which worries it is overreaching and will hurt businesses.

That has worried Democrats and public health groups, who have been ratcheting up their advocacy efforts with a flurry of letters to the president and other administration officials.

They say they are concerned the delay means Trump could bow to political pressure from his reelection campaign, which is reportedly pushing the president to water down the ban to exempt mint and menthol flavors.

Federal data shows that nearly two-thirds of high schoolers who use e-cigarettes use mint or menthol flavors.

“Flavored e-cigarettes are attractive to kids and are a huge public health concern, and politics should never outweigh the common good in setting our nation’s public health policy,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments Obstacles remain for deal on surprise medical bills This week: House impeachment inquiry hits crucial stretch MORE (D-N.J.) wrote in a letter to Trump on Wednesday.

In the Senate, a group of over 25 Democrats expressed similar concerns. 

“With each day, more children continue to be lured to e-cigarettes by flavors such as fruit, candy, and mint or menthol. We are therefore deeply troubled that there is no final compliance policy more than six weeks after the Oval Office announcement,” the senators wrote. 

Outside groups are also jumping in. On Wednesday, the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Physicians outlined the steps they think the administration needs to take to regulate e-cigarettes.

Sara Goza, president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said unless all flavors of e-cigarettes are removed from the market, children will still be at risk. 

“The idea that mint and menthol are adult flavors is simply ridiculous,” Goza said, adding that children use mint-flavored toothpaste and that menthol is used as a way to mask the “harsh taste of nicotine, making it easier for kids to get hooked.”

Those three groups were among the more than 50 health and advocacy organizations this week that urged Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar as well as first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpFirst lady lends a hand to 'Toys for Tots' charity drive The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by UANI — GOP, Democrats square off at final impeachment hearing The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - A crucial week on impeachment MORE to continue pushing for a complete removal of all e-cigarette flavors.

The first lady has previously called e-cigarette use by children a “growing epidemic” and was one of the leading voices to convince the president to crack down on e-cigarettes. 

“We can’t have our youth be so affected,” President Trump said at the time. “People are dying with vaping, so we’re looking at it very closely.”

The groups are hoping that Melania Trump can be similarly influential now. 

In the past week, the administration has reportedly been considering exempting mint and menthol flavors from the policy, amid warnings from Trump’s 2020 campaign team that the ban could have negative political ramifications for the president.

Trump’s initial announcement was met with fierce opposition from the vaping industry and conservatives, who argue that removing flavors would hurt small businesses and adults who use the products to quit smoking traditional cigarettes.

The possibility that mint and menthol could be exempt is an encouraging development for e-cigarette flavor advocates.

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“We are heartened to see signs that the Trump administration is beginning to recognize that its rush to judgment on flavors was misguided,” said Gregory Conley, president of American Vaping Association, a nonprofit that advocates for vaping companies.

Conley cited findings from Wall Street analysts that show banning flavors will boost cigarette sales, which have been lagging.

However, Conley said the whole idea of a flavor ban needs to be scrapped, because exempting mint and menthol would substantially benefit Juul, the largest e-cigarette manufacturer.

“The Trump administration needs to know that carving out certain flavors will largely only benefit one company and will not be effective at achieving any of the White House’s goals,” Conley said. 

Both sides are likely to keep up their pressure on the administration.

The White House Office of Management and Budget last week began reviewing the administration’s guidance that would implement the ban. 

However, there is no time frame for when the review will end, and administration officials have not disclosed what the actual text of the guidance will say.