Following considerable pushback from the vaping industry and users mobilized on social media, the Trump administration yesterday announced a compromise plan to curtail vaping among youth.
Health and human services secretary Alex M. Azar II announced a temporary ban on many of the candy- and fruit-flavored e-cigarettes favored by teens. Menthol and tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes will remain on the market, however.
In addition, “the targeted flavor ban will entirely exempt large, tank-based vaping devices, which are primarily sold in vape shops that cater to adult smokers. Together, the two exemptions represent a significant retreat from President Trump’s original plan announced four months ago, which would have banned all vaping flavors -- including menthol -- from all types of e-cigarettes,” Newser reports.
After news of the compromise measure broke in the Wall Street Journal on New Year’s Eve, President Donald Trump tossed a minute-long word salad of an explanation to reporters before end-of-year festivities got underway at Mar-a-Lago: “We’re taking it off, the flavors, for a period of time, certain flavors,” he said. “We’re going to protect our families. We’re going to protect our children. We’re going to protect the industry.”
“Angry public health groups on Wednesday predicted President Trump’s scaled-back plan to limit flavored e-cigarettes will fall far short of its goal of stopping a surge in youth vaping, arguing that the imminent policy is an election-year capitulation to industry interests,” Laurie McGinley and Josh Dawsey write for The Washington Post.
“Harold Wimmer, president and chief executive of the American Lung Association, said in a statement Wednesday that the White House plan ‘will only compromise the health of our nation’s children’ and that it was ‘disturbing to see the results of industry lobbying to undermine public health protections,’” they continue, adding that his comments “echoed the views of several public health groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, Truth Initiative and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.”
“This is a step in the right direction, but it basically just freezes the status quo,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, told USA Today. “It forces all e-cig makers to conform to what Juul has already done voluntarily. It would still allow the sale of flavored e-liquids in convenience stores, where kids can get easier access to them.”
Calling teenage vaping an “epidemic,” Gottlieb had taken an aggressive stance against the industry and announced “the largest single enforcement action in agency history” in September, 2018. He resigned last May.
“An alternative would have been to ban all pod-based e-cig products,” Gottlieb added Tuesday night.
“Trump floated that idea in September after a White House meeting with his top health officials and told reporters he’d seek a ban to protect young people,” USA Today’s John Fritze, Steve Kiggins and Jayne O’Donnell remind us.
“It's causing a lot of problems, and we're going to have to do something about it,” Trump said in the Oval Office, with Melania at his side.
“Vaping has become a very big business, as I understand it. Like, a giant business. In a very short period of time,” Trump continued, Ryan Bort reported for Rolling Stone. “But we can’t allow people to get sick and we can’t have our youth be so affected. And I’m hearing it. And that’s how the first lady got involved. She’s got a son, together, that is a beautiful young man and she feels very, very strongly about it.”
But by November, Trump was wavering even as California and New York were announcing that they were suing Juul for targeting young people with “deceptive and misleading marketing.” He refused to sign a one-page "decision memo" announcing a ban on flavored e-cigarettes, fearing it would lead to job losses, a Trump adviser told the Washington Post.
Yesterday’s compromise “reflects the complicated politics that Mr. Trump faces, as well as tensions within his administration, after initially weighing a full ban,” Abby Goodnough, Maggie Haberman and Sheila Kaplan write for The New York Times.
“Around the West Wing, polling data was circulated that had the imprimatur of one of Mr. Trump’s pollsters, John McLaughlin, showing that in battleground states, the president’s supporters opposed regulations against vaping,” they continue.
“But the poll was commissioned by a vaping industry group, and ultimately, those resisting any crackdown, such as the president’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, lost to the advisers who wanted to keep flavored e-cigarettes away from young people.”
The Washington Post editorial board weighed in on the compromise with a concise headline: “Trump backpedals on vaping. Sad!”