President Donald Trump, who has wavered on earlier support for a ban on non-tobacco flavored e-cigarettes, met Friday with vaping industry executives and public health advocates after reports of soaring vaping-related lung illnesses.
With some 5 million U.S. teens now vaping, the e-cigarette issue has taken on more urgency following mounting reports of vaping-related lung illnesses.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said the gathering was to give Trump and administration officials “an opportunity to hear from a large group, representing all sides as we continue to develop responsible guidelines that protect the public health and the American people.”
Among those expected to attend were Juul CEO K.C. Crosthwaite, and two executives of the largest U.S. tobacco companies, Altria CEO Howard Willard, and Reynolds American chief commercial officer Joe Fragnito.
Other expected participants were Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, and Tony Abboud, executive director of the Vapor Technology Association.
Among public health leaders, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids president Matt Myers, American Academy of Pediatrics president-elect Sally Goza and American Lung Association President Harold Wimmer were expected to attend, along with Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
The administration has sent mixed signals on how it plans to tackle the problem.
In September, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced plans by the administration to remove all flavored e-cigarettes from store shelves in a widening crackdown on vaping.
Last week, however, Mitch Zeller, director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products, declined to confirm such a ban in testimony before a Senate committee, referring inquiries instead to the White House.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday 2,290 cases of vaping-related lung injuries in 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In addition, 47 vaping-related deaths have been confirmed in 25 states and D.C.
The median age of deceased patients was 53 years and ranged from 17 to 75 years. Among those cases where the data was available, 68% of patients were men and 38% were between the ages of 18 and 24.
The CDC recently reported that vitamin E acetate was associated with the overwhelming number of lung cases. The CDC said Vitamin E acetate was a “thickening agent” used in e-cigarette products containing THC, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects.
The CDC said Vitamin E usually does not cause harm when ingested as a vitamin or is used as skin treatment, but that research suggests that if inhaled “it may interfere with normal lung functioning.”
In Michigan, the state’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency on Friday temporarily halted the sale of marijuana products intended for vaping so that they can be tested for a compound linked to lung illnesses.
Scott Gottlieb, who served as FDA commissioner until April, told CNBC on Friday that the White House hesitation on the bannin gissue was likely due to fears of political blowback.
“I think they were spooked by the politics of this and the pushback,” said Gottlieb, a physician and health advocate. He added that he believes the White House is “legitimately concerned about shutting down these small mom and pop shops and these adult vape stores.”
The Vapor Technology Association, a trade group, says a report prepared for it by economist John Dunham & Associates claims that a ban on flavor products would eliminate over 150,000 jobs, force most of the country’s 13,480 independent retail stores to close and cost $8.4 billion in lost sales.
Meanwhile, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee passed a measure this month that would raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21, prohibit all flavored tobacco products and, in a bid to stop mail purchases, direct the FDA to issue a regulations ban on all cigarettes and e-cigarettes sales that are not in person.