WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Wednesday his administration will propose banning thousands of flavors used in e-cigarettes to combat a recent surge in underage vaping .
The Food and Drug Administration will develop guidelines to remove from the market all e-cigarette flavors except tobacco, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters during an Oval Office appearance with the president, first lady Melania Trump and the acting FDA commissioner, Ned Sharpless.
Trump said vaping has become such a problem that he wants parents to be aware of what’s happening. “People are going to watch what we’re saying and parents are going to be a lot tougher with respect to their children,” he said.
It will take several weeks to develop the proposed flavor restrictions, which will be subject to public input before taking effect.
Trump’s first public comments on vaping come as health authorities investigate hundreds of breathing illnesses reported in people who have used e-cigarettes and other vaping devices.
No single device, ingredient or additive has been identified, though many cases involve marijuana vaping devices.
The proposal announced by Trump officials would only apply to nicotine vaping products, which are regulated by the FDA.
The FDA has had the authority to ban vaping flavors since 2016, but has previously resisted calls to take that step. Agency officials instead said they were studying if flavors could help smokers quit traditional cigarettes.
But parents, politicians and health advocates have increasingly called for a crackdown on flavors , arguing that they are overwhelmingly to blame for a recent surge in underage vaping by U.S. teens, particularly with small, discrete devices such as Juul’s.
Anti-tobacco groups praised the announcement but said restrictions must be “immediate.”
“It has taken far too long to stop Juul and other e-cigarettes companies from targeting our nation’s kids with sweet-flavored, nicotine-loaded products,” said Matthew Myers, of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, in a statement.
A ban on flavors would be a huge blow to companies such as San Francisco-based Juul, which has grown into a multibillion-dollar business by selling mint, fruit and dessert flavored-nicotine products.
Juul and other manufacturers argue that their products are intended to help adult smokers wean themselves off traditional paper-and-tobacco cigarettes. But there is little evidence that e-cigarettes are effective for helping smokers quit.
Representatives for Juul did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
A 2009 law banned all flavors from traditional cigarettes except menthol. But that law did not apply to e-cigarettes, which were then a tiny segment of the tobacco market.
More than 80 percent of underage teens who use e-cigarettes say they picked their product because it “comes in flavors that I like,” according to government surveys.