A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers called on President Donald Trump to go ahead with a ban on flavored e-cigarettes on Monday, following the president’s decision to hold off on a sweeping ban he first announced in September.
“Our children should not be used as guinea pigs by the tobacco industry,” said the letter from the Senate and House chairs of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus to End the Youth Vaping Epidemic. The letter, signed by 28 senators and representatives, calls for a nationwide ban on all flavored e-cigarettes, including the mint and menthol flavors that the vaping industry has pushed to keep on the market.
“We urge you to finalize the removal of all flavors from the market,” the letter said, referencing the May 2020 deadline for e-cigarette manufacturers seeking product approvals from the Food and Drug Administration.
Trump first announced his intention to ban all flavored vapes in early September, kicking off intense lobbying from e-cigarette firms and public health officials. “A lot of people think it’s wonderful,” Trump said in comments to reporters. “It’s not a wonderful thing.”
But in a November White House meeting of the vaping industry and children’s health groups, Trump said he was still searching for a ban that would satisfy parents enraged over skyrocketing rates of teen vaping, while not putting vaping stores out of business and driving former smokers to the black market.
“This is absolutely unacceptable. Our children are not for sale,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, a cochair of the caucus, told BuzzFeed News. “I’m very disappointed that industry was able to elbow its way into the discussion and hold up the ban. But if there are discussions going forward, our caucus should have a voice at the table.”
The ban fight comes as survey results reported by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in November suggest that more than 1 in 4 high school students now use flavored e-cigarettes monthly, more than 5 million teens nationwide, an increase from last year. According to the surveys, mint was the most popular flavor among the teens, followed by mango. At the November meeting, the president added that he supported increasing the minimum age to buy e-cigarettes to 21, up from 18 nationwide, a position supported both by the vaping industry and health officials.
“It is imperative that the Administration issue a compliance policy and work with Congress to end this epidemic and ensure the wellbeing of our youth,” Rep. Peter King of New York, a Republican cochair of the caucus, told BuzzFeed News by email.
On Wednesday, the House Oversight subcommittee chaired by Krishnamoorthi will hold a hearing to question a senior FDA official on the status of the proposed ban. The agency had sent warning letters and fines to more than 1,300 shops selling e-cigarettes to minors in September. Krishnamoorthi said he expected that the FDA would be receiving “a lot of pointed questions over why the flavor ban has not been passed” at the hearing.
Facing increased public scrutiny, leading e-cigarette company Juul announced the suspension of US sales of mango, creme, fruit, and cucumber flavors in October. The company added mint to its suspended list in November, following the release of the JAMA results. Its competitors had nevertheless said they would still sell flavored e-cigarettes. More than 10 million US adults vape e-cigarettes regularly, according to estimates, while more than 34 million smoke cigarettes.
Much of the concern over vaping has sprung from a nationwide outbreak of vaping-related lung injuries, now at more than 2,200 cases in every state but Alaska, with at least 47 deaths. Although those cases largely appear related to vaping of illicit THC-containing liquids, pressure has increased on public officials to act to stem teen use of cigarettes amid the outbreak.
“The fight against vaping is rapidly becoming the new reefer madness,” American Vaping Association president Gregory Conley told BuzzFeed News in an emailed response to the Congressional letter. “Just as prohibitionist-minded campaigners used dodgy statistics to fuel the failed war on drugs, so-called progressives are pushing for broad bans with no care or concern for adult smokers or the black markets that will inevitably be created.”
In previous statements, Conley had asked the administration to limit FDA plans to require e-cigarette firms to face a public health review of their products, which he called “an existential threat” to the vaping industry.
The November White House meeting raised unusual tensions within the GOP, pitting the Americans for Tax Reform, which opposed the ban, against the Concerned Women for America, which supported it. Underscoring the politics surrounding vaping, e-cigarette enthusiasts held a rally in front of the White House over Veterans Day weekend, protesting the proposed flavor ban.