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Trump Moves to Curtail Flavored E-Cigarettes as Schools Struggle With Vaping, Related Deaths

By Evie Blad — September 11, 2019 2 min read
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The Food and Drug Administration will move to rein in sales of flavored e-cigarette products—long viewed as especially attractive to teens—as schools scramble to address growing student use, President Donald Trump told reporters Wednesday.

The move comes amid an outbreak of vaping-related illnesses that led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to advise against using the e-cigarettes all together. Kansas health officials announced this week that a sixth person has died after using e-cigarettes.

“We can’t allow people to get sick and we can’t allow our youth to be so affected,” Trump said following an Oval Office meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Acting FDA Commissioner Norman Sharpless, and first lady Melania Trump.

Azar said his agency would issue an enforcement policy within 90 days that would ban sales of flavored vaping products until they gain FDA approval. Tobacco-flavored products can remain on store shelves, but they must be approved by the agency by May 2020.

“We simply have to remove these attractive flavored products from the marketplace until they secure FDA approval,” Azar said.

E-cigarettes are marketed as a smoking cessation device and an alternative to traditional cigarettes. But public health officials have long warned of a growing epidemic of teen use. Federal data show that many teens who’ve never smoked start vaping, hiding popular products like the compact Juul in their shirt sleeves and smuggling them into school restrooms. Some of those users eventually transition to traditional cigarette use, public health officials have warned.

Youth health advocates have long pushed for tighter regulations on the sales and marketing of e-cigarettes. In March 2018, a group of seven public health and medical groups sued the FDA over a delay in implementing such regulations. The agency later took steps to limit marketing to minors, including requiring flavored vape pods to be sold behind the counter and requiring retailers to take steps to limit “straw sales,” through which online purchasers buy larger quantities of stock to sell to underage users.

As Education Week reported recently, schools have taken a variety of approaches to tackling the growing use of Juuls and related devices in their classrooms and hallways. And some said they’ve been caught flat-footed:

At Arrowhead Union High School in Hartland, Wis., about 27 miles from Milwaukee, administrators installed devices in the bathrooms over the summer that detect vaping and automatically send email alerts to the associate principal. And high school students trained in prevention education will be deployed to the middle schools to talk to younger students about the dangers of vaping, according to Principal Gregg Wieczorek. 'I would rather convince a kid to not start, than to ever have to convince them to stop,' Wieczorek said."

Officials in the Goddard, Kan., school district said Tuesday they are preparing to sue the makers, distributors and sellers of electronic cigarettes and vaping products.

“We have found that it (vaping) is disruptive to our education process on a daily basis. And we believe that it is our responsibility as a school district to protect the kids from what we feel is a ... growing crisis,” School Board President Kevin McWhorter said, according to the Wichita Eagle.

The Trump administration’s moves come days after Melania Trump tweeted concern about youth vaping. “She’s got a son ... she feels very strongly about it,” President Trump said.

For more about student vaping and schools, check out this video.

Photo: A researcher holds a variety of vaping devices in a lab at Portland State University in Portland, Ore., earlier this year --Craig Mitchelldyer/AP