The Trump administration on Wednesday announced that it is taking steps to combat e-cigarette use among young people.
In response to concerns about a recent outbreak of an unknown lung illness associated with e-cigarette use, the Food and Drug Administration will enforce premarket authorization for non-tobacco flavored e-cigarettes. That will force unauthorized flavored products off the market.
"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."
As of September 6, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were more than 450 reported cases of vaping-associated lung illness across 33 states and 1 U.S. territory. Plus, six deaths have been confirmed by officials in California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota and Oregon.
The announcement comes on the heels of new data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey, which shows that more than a quarter of high school students used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. The most popular flavors were fruit, menthol and mint, all of which will be hit by the new enforcement.
Most e-cigarettes heat a liquid that contains nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals to deliver an aerosol to the user. Some people use them to consume marijuana or other substances, however. The New York State Department of Health recently issued a warning that cannabis-containing vape products may contain high levels of vitamin E acetate. The chemical is generally considered safe but has oil-like properties. It may coat the lungs when it's burned, leading to severe pulmonary disease. But this is just a working theory. The cause of the surge in e-cigarette associated lung illness is still unknown.
In addition to its investigation of lung illness, the FDA is encouraging the continued submission of reports related to seizures following e-cigarette use. It's still trying to determine whether there's a relationship between e-cigarette use and seizures or other neurological problems.
The Trump administration's action on flavored e-cigarette use echoes legislation initially introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in 2018 called the Stopping Appealing Flavors in E-Cigarettes for Kids (SAFE Kids) Act. The bill would place substantial restrictions on e-cigarette flavorings and ban cigar flavorings. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) introduced the SAFE Kids Act to the U.S. House of Representatives in March.
She announced on Tuesday that the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigations panel would hold a hearing on Sept. 25to investigate the rush of vaping-related illnesses.
"I don't often agree with the Trump admin, but on this I do. These flavored nicotine products are causing real harm to the health of our children. That's why I filed legislation months ago to ban them in the U.S. We have to do more to protect our kids," DeGette said in a tweet.
But not everyone was enthusiastic about the administration's attempt to reel in youth e-cigarette use.
"There's a disconnect there," said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). "If there's an age limit, why don't we enforce the age? Why don't we let adults utilize the products?"