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President Trump calls for ban on e-cigarette flavors

President Donald Trump announced an effort by the federal government to ban flavored e-cigarettes in a meeting Wednesday with first lady Melania Trump, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and Acting FDA Commissioner Norman Sharpless.

The FDA will roll out the plan in the next few weeks, Azar said, adding that all e-cigarette flavors would be pulled from the market except for tobacco.

The announcement follows six recent deaths due to vaping-related illness across the country, and the FDA is lab testing more than 100 e-liquids to find a culprit for the surge in lung damage hospitalizations caused by vaping.  (Earlier this year, spoke with a lung researcher about the effects of vaping on the lungs.)

“We can’t allow people to get sick, and we can’t allow our youth to be so affected,” Trump said.

He was echoing the FDA’s call-out of a vaping epidemic among youth last year after the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed that 1.5 million more students used e-cigarettes in 2018 than in 2017. On Wednesday, federal health officials said this number has risen again in 2019.

Meanwhile, several studies, including this one by UNC-Chapel Hill, have shown that flavored e-liquids are a primary reason youth choose to vape. 

“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.”

In North Carolina, Attorney General Josh Stein has also launched efforts to curb youth vaping and made the state the first in the country to sue Juul Labs, Inc. for its marketing practices. Juul is the largest e-cigarette company, with about 70% of the market share. Last month, Stein filed lawsuits against eight additional e-cigarette companies, accusing them of targeting children with their products by offering flavors like bubble gum, fudge, french toast, and gummy bear.

“Children are vaping because of flavors,” Stein said in a statement Wednesday. “The FDA today took an extremely positive step forward that will protect our kids. I applaud the FDA for banning flavors. Adults who want to transition from traditional cigarettes to e-cigarettes can still do that.”

To keep up with EducationNC’s coverage of youth e-cigarette use, click here.

Yasmin Bendaas

Yasmin Bendaas is a Science writer.  A North Carolina native, she received her master’s degree in Science & Medical Journalism at UNC Chapel Hill, where she was a Park Fellow. She received her Bachelor of Arts in anthropology in 2013 from Wake Forest University, where she double-minored in journalism and Middle East and South Asia studies. As an undergraduate student, Bendaas gained insight into public health when she interned at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, a statewide grantmaker focused on rural health, including access to primary care, diabetes, community-centered prevention, and mental health and substance abuse. 

As a journalist, Bendaas has been funded twice by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for fieldwork in Algeria — first to cover a disappearing indigenous tattoo tradition, and again to look at how climate change affects rural sheepherding practices.