The Trump administration is preparing to ban flavored e-cigarettes, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday. The word comes as health officials across the country scramble to try to identify the cause of a growing number of reports of severe lung illnesses related to vaping.
The HHS secretary’s comments came after he met to discuss the issue of a ban on flavored e-cigarettes with President Trump and Ned Sharpless, the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA is one of the agencies leading the investigation into the outbreak, which has already been linked to six deaths.
“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. “We will not stand idly by as these products become an on-ramp to combustible cigarettes or nicotine addiction for a generation of youth.”
He said it would take several weeks to develop the policy.
The announcement was applauded by the American Academy of Pediatrics, though the organization said it was long past time for the government to move on the issue.
“Pediatricians have been raising alarm with increased urgency about the toll of e-cigarettes on their teenage patients, which ranges from wheezing and coughing to compromised lung function, asthma exacerbation and most recently, to seizures, respiratory distress and death,” said Dr. Kyle Yasuda, AAP president. “FDA must now follow through on its promise without delay.”
The American Lung Association echoed the message, saying e-cigarettes are unsafe.
To date the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have identified as many as 450 people who have suffered from the symptoms of the vaping-related illness. Many of the cases are young people; a number have ended up in hospital and have needed mechanical assistance to breathe.
It is not currently known what is behind the spate of illnesses, though many of those affected reported vaping THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, either alone or in combination with tobacco or other vaping products. FDA labs are testing more than 100 products looking for contaminants that might explain the lung damage doctors are seeing.
The statement made clear the administration’s interest is not simply related to stopping the vaping-related illness, but to combatting the rising popularity of vaping, which some critics believe is undermining efforts to reduce tobacco use.
Sharpless said if the flavored e-cigarette ban pushes young people towards consuming tobacco-flavored vaping products, the administration will take additional steps.
“The tremendous progress we’ve made in reducing youth tobacco use in the U.S. is jeopardized by this onslaught of e-cigarette use,” Sharpless said. “Nobody wants to see children becoming addicted to nicotine, and we will continue to use the full scope of our regulatory authority thoughtfully and thoroughly to tackle this mounting public health crisis.”