Trump administration set to propose ban on e-cigarette flavorings

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday his administration will propose banning thousands of flavors used in e-cigarettes to combat a recent surge in underage vaping .

The Food and Drug Administration will develop guidelines to remove from the market all e-cigarette flavors except tobacco, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters during an Oval Office appearance with the president, first lady Melania Trump and the acting FDA commissioner, Ned Sharpless.

Trump said vaping has become such a problem that he wants parents to be aware of what's happening. "People are going to watch what we're saying and parents are going to be a lot tougher with respect to their children," he said.

Melania Trump recently tweeted her concerns over the combination of children and vaping.

It will take several weeks to develop the proposed flavor restrictions, which will be subject to public input before taking effect.

Trump's first public comments on vaping come as health authorities investigate hundreds of breathing illnesses reported in people who have used e-cigarettes and other vaping devices.

No single device, ingredient or additive has been identified, though many cases involve marijuana vaping devices.

“The THC cartridges that are shipped in, they are black market," said Tim Birdwell Jr., who owns Vapor Vice in Indy. "Now what's gonna happen when this is gone. People are going to start making their own.”

Birdwell Jr. said his shop will undoubtedly close if the ban goes into effect. He said 80% of his customers are over the age of 30, and that he has stopped carrying any vaping products that have labels that may appeal to kids. That said, he added that his adult customers want flavoring as opposed to tobacco flavored vaping products. Birdwell Jr. said many of his customers are looking to vaping as a way to stop smoking cigarettes. He questions why someone would want a vaping product that reminds them of the addictive product they're trying to quit?

“I've seen people start vaping, I've never seen them start vaping then go smoke a cigarette. Why? Because it doesn’t taste good,” Birdwell Jr. assured.

His fear now is that teenagers and adults will turn to black market products to get what they want. He believes these products are more harmful. A group of teens already broke into his shop once to get their hands on the products. He lost thousands of dollars in merchandise. If children want to get them, he believes they will. He argues that at least he can regulate who purchases products in his shop.

“The thing of it is, you can go online with a fake birthday and a Visa card and buy anything you want," Birdwell Jr. said.

The proposal announced by Trump officials would only apply to nicotine vaping products, which are regulated by the FDA.

The FDA has had the authority to ban vaping flavors since 2016, but has resisted calls to take that step.

“The bottom line is these products aren't safe, and no one should be using them,” said Nick Torres, Advocacy Director for the American Lung Association of Indiana, “None of these products have really been evaluated by the FDA.”

Instead, the FDA previously said it wanted to study the role of flavors in vaping products, including whether they help adult smokers quit traditional cigarettes.

But parents, politicians and health advocates have increasingly called for a crackdown on flavors , arguing that they are overwhelmingly to blame for a recent surge in underage vaping by U.S. teens.

A ban on flavors would represent a huge blow to the vaping industry, including companies like Juul, which has grown into a multibillion dollar business by selling mint, fruit and dessert flavored-nicotine products.

Juul and other vaping companies argue that their products are intended to help adult smokers wean themselves off traditional paper-and-tobacco cigarettes. But there is little evidence that e-cigarettes are effective for helping smokers quit.

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