After the sixth national death related to e-cigarettes and lung disease was confirmed in Kansas on Tuesday, President Donald Trump says 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.
The proposal would only apply to nicotine vaping products, which are regulated by the FDA.
"We will not stand idly by as these products become an on-ramp to combustible cigarettes or nicotine addiction for a generation of youth," Azar explained.
The HHS secretary said flavored products could apply for FDA permission to reenter the market. But under agency standards, only products that represent a net benefit to the nation's public health can win FDA clearance.
Azar said the administration would allow tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes to remain available as an option for adult smokers. But he said if children begin using those products, "we will take enforcement action there also."
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.
A ban on flavors would represent a huge blow to the vaping industry, including companies such as Juul, which has grown into a multi-billion dollar business by selling mint, fruit and dessert-flavored nicotine products.
Federal law prohibits e-cigarette and all other tobacco sales to those under 18. But last year, 1 in 5 high school students reported vaping in the past month, according to government survey figures. Government health officials have called the trend an "epidemic," and new statistics due out this fall are expected to show the problem worsening.
More than 80 percent of underage teens who use e-cigarettes say they picked the product because it "comes in flavors that I like," according to government surveys.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report last week saying there have been more than 450 cases of vaping-related illnesses so far in 33 states.
American Lung Association National President and CEO Harold Wimmer responded to the increasing vaping-related illnesses and deaths, saying, "E-cigarettes are not safe and can cause irreversible lung damage and lung disease. No one should use e-cigarettes or any other tobacco product."
Health officials report deaths have occurred in Kansas, California, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, and Oregon.
While the investigation continues, the CDC is urging people to stop vaping or using e-cigarettes.