Trump Backs Off His Pledge to Ban Flavored Vapes. What It Means for Schools

By Mark Lieberman — November 18, 2019 3 min read
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President Donald Trump has reversed his administration’s plans to move ahead with a nationwide ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, according to recent reports in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Trump previously said publicly that he wanted his administration to move quickly on shrinking the e-cigarette industry, which is beset by more than 40 recent vaping-related deaths and wide-ranging public health concerns, particularly for children. The decision to scuttle the ban reportedly came as Trump fears the possible political consequences of alienating adult e-cigarette users who support his re-election.

Education Week has reported in recent months that school principals are anxious to curb the spread of vaping and establish policies that discourage unhealthy habits.

Paul Fanuele, principal of Arlington High School in Lagrangeville, New York, has been trying since last school year to raise awareness of the dangers of vaping by sending letters home to parents, posting resources on the school website, and arranging a faculty meeting led by the school’s health teachers. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., visited the school earlier this month to spotlight students who are helping to draw attention to the issue.

“We’ve done a lot with awareness and yet we still have students vaping,” Fanuele told Education Week on Monday. “It’s just concerning.”

Fanuele says he still hears students saying that vaping is a healthier alternative to smoking—a selling point for e-cigarette manufacturers that has been contradicted by recently released research.

“I feel that we’re making progress and we hear stories of kids who are quitting and are asking for help to quit and have been successful,” Fanuele said. “I just would like to see no child doing this.”

School nurses are also increasingly focused on educating students and parents about the risk of vaping—and identifying cases of student illnesses in which vaping may have played a role, according to Laurie Combe, president of the National Association of School Nurses. What looks like a one-off stomach ache, accelerated heart rate, or low blood pressure could be evidence of a vaping-related illness, Combe said.

“They have to make that part of their assessment and directly ask their students, ‘Do you smoke? Do you use a vape? Sometimes if you vape too much you have these symptoms,’ ” Combe said.

Popular flavors of vaping fluid, like mint and menthol, “work to soothe the throat so that the smoke doesn’t feel as harsh,” Combe said. She’s concerned that the absence of federal policy will lead to uneven enforcement and confusion at the state level.

According to reporting from the Times, seven states have either enacted or announced a ban on flavored e-cigarettes, while one state (Illinois) and at least two major jurisdictions (Chicago and Los Angeles) are considering a similar ban. San Francisco and the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota have banned the sale of e-cigarettes altogether.

The New York state legislature this fall passed a ban on flavored e-cigarette sales, but a court challenge has held up implementation. Schumer has said Congress later this year will take up a bill that would impose a nationwide ban.

The Times reported that President Trump decided against issuing a regulatory ban after seeing outraged responses from vaping shop owners and supporters of his administration who prefer vaping to traditional smoking.

Combe pointed to a recent academic study that found that under-18 e-cigarette users tend to use fruit and candy flavors more frequently than adult users. The study ends with a recommendation for a ban on fruit flavors, which “may help reduce the use of e-cigarettes among young persons without substantially burdening adult e-cigarette users.”

A small, but growing number of school districts—including Los Angeles Unified—have been filing lawsuits against e-cigarette maker Juul, accusing the company marketed its products to youth and misrepresented the health consequences of vaping. Among the common complaints of districts that are suing: the explosion of youth vaping has forced them to redirect spending that should be spent on teaching and learning.

Image: Getty

More reading on student vaping and its impact on schools

The Student Vaping Crisis: How Schools Are Fighting Back

‘Juuling’ in Class? Yes, It’s Happening. Here’s What You Need to Know

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.