President Donald Trump said Wednesday his administration plans to ban non-tobacco-flavored vaping products amid heightened concerns about their health hazards and surging use by teenagers.
The move comes after reports of at least six deaths and more than 400 cases of severe lung illnesses that are believed linked to the electronic cigarette products that feature sweet and fruity flavors as well as conventional tobacco flavors.
"People are dying with vaping," Trump asserted while meeting with reporters at the White House. "We have to find out the extent of the problem."
"We can't allow people to get sick and we can't have our youth be so affected," Trump said as first lady Melania Trump sat next to him. Two days ago, Mrs. Trump tweeted that she was "deeply concerned about the growing epidemic of e-cigarette use in our children."
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters that the Food and Drug Administration was drawing up plans for the ban, in which "all flavored e-cigarettes other than tobacco flavor would have to be removed from the market" until each of the products' producers obtained government approval.
"We simply have to remove these attractive, flavored products from the marketplace until they secure FDA approval," Azar said. "It will take several weeks for us to put out the final guidance" and until the effective date of the ban, he said.
While no specific device or ingredient has been identified in the rash of illnesses, the ban would appear to be a major blow particularly for the market leader, Juul Labs Inc., whose sleek vaping products and assorted flavors have been an enormous hit. Juul did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Juul is so popular that tobacco giant Altria Group Inc. last December invested nearly $13 billion to obtain a 35% ownership stake in the e-cigarette company.
As of last Friday, there were 450 possible cases of severe pulmonary disease related to vaping across 33 states, according to officials of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since the first cases were reported in April, there also have been six deaths reported that officials believe might be related to vaping.
While the exact cause of the illnesses is still being investigated, Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County's public health director, told a news conference last week that her agency was "issuing a warning to all residents about the use of these devices as potentially harmful to proper lung function. Stop vaping now."
The Trump administration also has been studying how much tobacco-flavored vaping helps adult smokers quit traditional cigarettes.
In a tweet Wednesday, Azar said that while the current plan is not to include tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes, "if data show kids migrating to tobacco-flavored products, we will do what's necessary to tackle continued youth use of these products."
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