Trump in Palm Beach: FDA acts after president agrees to e-cigarette ban
President Donald Trump has defied the $2.5 billion e-cigarette industry and disappointed untold numbers of vaping voters — at the starting line of the 2020 election year no less — by agreeing to a ban on some flavored e-cigarettes.
On Tuesday, the president said that “certain” flavored e-cigarette products would come off the market to “protect the public” but added that he hoped it would be only temporary.
“We have to protect our families,” Trump said just before he walked into his annual Year’s Eve party at Mar-a-Lago that evening. “At the same time, it’s a big industry. We want to protect the industry.”
The president added he expected the measure would be temporary.
“We’re doing a very exhaustive examination,” Trump explained. “Hopefully everything will be back on the market very, very shortly.”
The FDA on Thursday followed up by releasing guidance for companies to cease manufacture of fruit and mint flavored e-cigarette cartridges known to be a big part of the rapidly growing youth vaping epidemic.
The FDA guidance clarifies that its enforcement action is designed to target underage smokers while still allowing adult e-cigarette users to benefit from the alternative to deadly conventional cigarette addiction.
The enforcement action focuses on any flavored, cartridge-based products (excluding tobacco- or menthol-flavored) and those products that target minors, are likely to promote use by minors or where the manufacturer has failed to prevent minors’ access.
The vaping industry had anticipated the president’s decision and tried to sway Trump with a hefty ad buy in the Palm Beach County television market during his holiday visit to Mar-a-Lago.
The Vapor Technology Association spent $100,000 on advertising on Fox and CNN during times when the president is known to watch. Another industry group, the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association, made Twitter pleas to its supporters to contact the FDA and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to preserve what they say is a path to quitting cigarettes.
Trump’s move fulfills a promise to first lady Melania Trump, but potentially angers vaping voters, including some e-cigarette users who puffed clouds of aromatic smoke after the president passed by them Thursday morning on the motorcade route from Mar-a-Lago to his West Palm Beach golf club.
Industry-sponsored e-cigarette users and nonusers began to congregate on Southern Boulevard in the past few days wearing “We Vape We Vote” T-shirts and holding handmade signs calling on the president not to ban flavors.
They were out there again on Thursday.
“We’re fighting for the right,” said Vanessa Treft, 43, of Ohio. Treft, who does not use e-cigarettes, said she was working on behalf of a trade group representing the estimated 14,000 small business owners who would be affected by a flavor ban.
Darren Naftz, 42, a Pennsylvania native who said he was “retired” and held a sign that read “Strawberry Kiwi Saved My Life,” said that he does not vape regularly but the protest was a personal freedom issue.
“It’d be no different than wanting to take away somebody’s gun or regular cigarettes or chewing tobacco,” he said.
E-cigarette user Joe Salib, 39, of Largo blames product maker Juul Labs, which is one of the industry’s largest makers of flavored e-cigarettes and was the target of a June congressional investigation that revealed marketing and flavors geared toward young people.
“I’m here to support the president because we want him to be successful,” said Saib, a former heavy smoker who switched to vaping flavors like Evergreen and “Fruity Pebbles.”
The FDA warns that the high nicotine content in e-cigarettes can get teens hooked and named Juul — which is not part of the Vapor Technology Association — as an e-cigarette brand popular among young people that delivers high levels of nicotine.
“We didn’t have this issue up until two or three years ago when Juul entered the market,” said Saib, who left his home at 4 a.m. Thursday to join the protesters as a volunteer. “Kids were able to take in 50, 60, 70 mg of nicotine, really high doses of nicotine. I vape 3 [mg] and I was a heavy smoker, and they’re vaping 50!”
One industry-sponsored protester said he supported bans on cartridge-based e-cigarettes, like those produced by Juul.
“These are easier to conceal,” Jay Childers, 29, of Fort Lauderdale, said of the pod-based unit.
Childers held the two units side-by-side, his $130 Drag 2 tank, which was about the size of a pack of cigarettes, and the slender cartridge or pod-based unit that he said most teens are using, which is about the size of a cigarette.
He added that while refilling his tank is cheaper in the long run, he can only refill it at vape shops that mix the flavors themselves and are known to more strictly check IDs than gas stations that only sell pods.
Vaping critics calling for the ban say flavors like cotton candy and mango just appeal to young people. Scrutiny on vaping intensified in 2019 after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked vaping to more than 1,000 cases of a mysterious lung disease. Dozens of people across the country died in the outbreak, which began in the spring.
“We can’t allow people to get sick, and we can’t have our youth to be so affected,” Trump told the media in September, praising the first lady’s advocacy and referring to the couple’s son, Barron, 13, who is at the age when many young people start vaping, according to the FDA.
“People are dying with vaping, so we’re looking at it very closely,” the president promised at the time, while acknowledging the industry is growing exponentially and accounts for thousands of jobs.
The Vapor Technology Association media and press campaign highlighted the small businesses and 150,000 jobs, including 31,000 jobs in swing states like Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
“A ban would either drive people back to combustible cigarettes, the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the U.S., or lead to illegal sales with a new and burgeoning black market,” said association executive director Tony Abboud in a statement announcing the ad buy.
Voters featured in the commercials explicitly said they would not vote for Trump if he banned flavored e-cigarettes.
The VTA makes the case that a ban will only lead to a black market of unregulated products and more vaping-related illnesses.
This story originally published to palmbeachpost.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.