Vaping has become a topic of controversy lately as underage use has exploded while evidence has suggested that incessantly inhaling vaporous substances may not be as harmless to one’s health as the public thought. President Trump weighed in for the first time on Wednesday, telling reporters at the White House that he’s aware of the issue, and that, like with every other problem plaguing the United States that he may or may not decide to address, he’s looking into it very strongly.
“Vaping has become a very big business, as I understand it. Like, a giant business. In a very short period of time,” Trump said. “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. She’s seen it, and we’re both reading it. A lot of people are reading it. But people are dying, from vaping. So we’re looking at it very closely.”
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The son of Melania’s to whom Trump is referring is also his own son. His name is Barron.
Trump: “Vaping has become a very big business. We can’t allow people to get sick and we can’t have our youth be so affected. People are dying” pic.twitter.com/2IiEjCleP0
— Bloomberg TicToc (@tictoc) September 11, 2019
Trump’s comments didn’t come out of nowhere. Earlier on Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced plans to remove all flavored vaping products from the market as part of an effort to stem use among underage Americans. The announcement noted that over a quarter of high school students are “current” e-cigarette users, meaning they have vaped within the past 30 days, and that the “overwhelming majority” of youth usage was with fruit or mint flavors.
“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,” HHS Secretary Alex 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.”
According to the HHS, the Food and Drug Administration is currently shoring up plans to remove all flavored vape products from the market within 30 days. Manufacturers will then have the option of reapplying for FDA approval, but they will need to demonstrate that the health benefits outweigh the risks of having the product back on the market.
One manufacturer that has been slow on the uptake is JUUL. On Monday, the FDA sent letters to the e-cigarette giant warning it about its sketchy marketing practices, which have at times targeted young Americans. “Regardless of where products like e-cigarettes fall on the continuum of tobacco product risk, the law is clear that, before marketing tobacco products for reduced risk, companies must demonstrate with scientific evidence that their specific product does in fact pose less risk or is less harmful,” Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless said in a statement. “JUUL has ignored the law, and very concerningly, has made some of these statements in school to our nation’s youth.”
Lawmakers are also concerned. On Wednesday, Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) almost certainly became the first senator to say “unicorn milk” on national TV during while addressing the issue on CNN. “These aren’t aimed at a 50-year-old chain smoker trying to quit cigarettes,” he said of the colorfully titled e-cigarette flavors. “They’re designed to attract children, and unfortunately they’re extremely successful. Vaping targets kids, and it’s time for us to put an end to it.”
#VapingTargetsKids. Just look at the flavors on the market today. Unicorn milk, bubble gum, gummy bear. These aren’t aimed at a 50-year-old chain smoker trying to quit cigarettes. They’re designed to attract children, and they’re working. It’s time @US_FDA puts an end to it. pic.twitter.com/ax0mKjgpcu
— Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) September 11, 2019
Time will tell how effectively the FDA will be able to implement its plan to remove flavored vaping products from shelves (and then combat the potential bootleg market that could result from the ban). It’s always been difficult to take Trump and his administration at their word on public health issues — whether in regard to gun control legislation or the president’s vow to cure AIDS and cancer — but the HHS’s announcement on Wednesday certainly seems like a good first step toward making sure the youth vaping epidemic doesn’t get worse than it already is.