Three days after the Centers for Disease Control announced that five people have died of severe lung illnesses linked to vaping and reported cases have more than doubled to 450, First Lady Melania Trump tweeted that she is “deeply concerned” about teen e-cigarette use.
Trump said “we need to do all we can” to slow the teen vaping epidemic, though she did not suggest specific plans.
“I am deeply concerned about the growing epidemic of e-cigarette use in our children,” she tweeted on Monday. “We need to do all we can to protect the public from tobacco-related disease and death, and prevent e-cigarettes from becoming an on-ramp to nicotine addiction for a generation of youth.”
As first lady, Trump has focused on kids’ wellbeing under a “Be Best” campaign against bullying and drug use, among other things. But she has faced criticism that her anti-bullying work is hypocritical, given her husband’s long history of attacking other people on social media.
She is one of several people who have called for better protections as the CDC, along with the Food and Drug Administration, investigate the rash of severe lung illnesses. Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA Commissioner, called on his former agency to better regulate cannabis vaping products.
I am deeply concerned about the growing epidemic of e-cigarette use in our children. We need to do all we can to protect the public from tobacco-related disease and death, and prevent e-cigarettes from becoming an on-ramp to nicotine addiction for a generation of youth. @HHSGov— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) September 9, 2019
“People who are vaping nicotine and having these reactions probably are vaping illegal products that are counterfeit,” Gottlieb said in an interview on CNBC. “We have to have a federal reckoning here.”
The rise of e-cigarettes has led to a 20 percent increase in teen vaping between 2017 and 2018, with at least 3.6 million teen users nationwide.
The CDC said that they have not yet determined exactly what types of vaping products are causing the severe lung illnesses, but that the cases include people who used cannabis vaping products and others who used nicotine vapes.
On Tuesday, Michigan became the first state to ban sales of all flavored e-cigarettes in an effort to stop teen vaping, and San Francisco voted to end sales and distribution of all e-cigarettes in June.
Earlier Monday, the FDA slammed Juul, the leading e-cigarette manufacturer, for illegally claiming that their product is a safe alternative to traditional cigarettes. The government agency sent Juul a warning letter, threatening to fine the company or take away their products if they did not come up with a solution in 14 days, The New York Times reported.
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The FDA said that Juul was not allowed to claim any health benefits of their product without approval. The agency has previously come after the company for marketing their product to teens, and they raided Juul headquarters in October for “further documentation related to Juul’s sales and marketing practices.”
In the letter sent to Juul on Monday, the FDA said that the company admitted in congressional testimony that a Juul representative went to a school and told students that their product “was much safer than cigarettes.”
Dr. S. Christy Sadreameli, assistant professor of Pediatrics in Pediatric Pulmonary Medicine at Johns Hopkins and a volunteer spokesperson for the American Lung Association, told PEOPLE that e-cigarettes of any type give off ultra-fine particles that are toxic and harmful to the lungs. Sadreameli said it’s incorrect to call e-cigarettes a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes.
“E-cigarettes have been on the market for just ten years, which is not very long,” she said. “Things like Juuls have not undergone strict FDA testing, and we want them to do that. Anyone should be concerned. Even if you’re buying it from a well-known shop or brand.”