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As Trump backs away from vaping regulations, way forward is hazy

REUTERS/Daniel Becerril
Members of the Minnesota delegation are now continuing to look for ways to regulate vaping products despite the lack of commitment from the president.

In September, the Trump administration committed to banning flavored e-cigarettes, like mint and menthol, in order to temper the rapid increase of young people using vaping products. Alex Azar, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, said he would prepare a new rule within thirty days. “We can’t allow people to get sick,” President Donald Trump said. “And we can’t have our youth be so affected.”

But the rule never came.

According to the Washington Post, the night before the sign-off on the new regulation, the president changed his mind because of worries that regulating the industry may hurt his re-election prospects.

With the president reversing course, what seemed like it might initially be a fairly smooth bipartisan process has collapsed, as Minnesota members are now continuing to look for ways to regulate vaping products despite the lack of commitment from the president.

Vaping diseases

The concern with vaping products is two-fold: there has been a rapid increase in the number of young people using the products and there have been thousands of reported cases of vaping related illnesses and several deaths.

Data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey shows that more than a quarter of high school students have used e-cigarettes in the past thirty days. Most say they used some type of flavoring.

“My anxiety and worry around vaping is reflected by this startling data: In 2019, one in four eleventh-graders in Minnesota reported using an e-cigarette in the last 30 days. That’s a 54 percent increase from 2016,” said Sen. Tina Smith. “And when I ask teachers in the state about what keeps them up at night, they point to two things: their growing concern about the mental health of their students and the exponential rise in teen vaping.”

As of November 20, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 2,290 injuries and 47 deaths have been reported as a result of using e-cigarette or vaping products.

Caucus to End Youth Vaping

Even prior to the Trump administration’s brief flirtation with addressing the issue, several members of the Minnesota delegation have been pushing for solutions.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar
REUTERS/Mike Blake
Sen. Amy Klobuchar
In early September, Sens. Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar authored a letter to the CDC and Food and Drug Administration asking for a quicker pace in their study of vaping related illnesses and deaths.

“We appreciate that the CDC has cautioned the public against the use of e-cigarette products” while the investigation into these illnesses remains ongoing — but we remain concerned that not enough is being done to appropriately regulate these products and ensure their safety for public use,” they wrote. “As Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm has said, ‘One death from this outbreak is one death too many.’”

Angie Craig of Minnesota’s Second District is a member of the Caucus to End Youth Vaping, a bipartisan coalition of House members formed in September to curb youth e-cigarette use.

Craig is also a cosponsor of the Stop Vaping Ads Act, a bill that would ban all radio and television ads for vaping products; The SAFE Kids Act of 2019, a bill that would restrict the flavoring in e-cigarette products, the Tobacco to 21 Act, a bill that would raise the age to purchase tobacco products to 21 years of age; and the Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2019, a comprehensive bill that would, among several changes, raise the tobacco purchase age to 21, require the FDA to include graphic health warnings on cigarette packages, and prohibit characterizing flavors of tobacco products.

Rep. Angie Craig
Rep. Angie Craig
“For me, this issue is not about politics, it’s personal. As a mother of four boys, one still in high school, I’ve seen first-hand how predatory advertising and the marketing of flavored products is getting the next generation of Americans addicted to nicotine,” said Craig.

“We cannot afford this to get held up by partisanship – our kids are getting sick.”

Finalizing the rule

But with the Trump administration backing off from their initial promise to issue FDA regulations, moving forward is more difficult. The lack of support from the president means what he will and will not sign, when it comes to legislative solutions, is unclear. In the Senate, Republican Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell seems to favors only one solution at present: raising the purchase age for tobacco products to 21.

Craig says that alone isn’t good enough. “Raising the nicotine purchase age is not enough to tackle the youth vaping epidemic,” she said. “Research has shown that three key drivers of the rise in youth vaping are the sale of flavored products, vaping companies targeting their advertising to teens, and how easy it is to buy vapes and cartridges online.”

In a meeting with industry leaders on Friday, it seemed even more clear that the president has fully reversed course from his position in September.

“If you don’t give it to them, it is going to come here illegally,” Trump said of vaping products. “They could be selling something on a street corner that could be horrible … They are going to have a flavor that is poison.”

The White House said the policy to regulate vaping products was delayed, but not abandoned. “The policymaking process is not stalled — it continues to move forward,” White House spokesperson Judd Deere said in a statement.

“The president’s decision not to move forward on action to ban flavored e-cigarettes is yet another example of how his Administration prioritizes corporate interests over people,” said Klobuchar. “Vaporizers and other e-cigarette products have flooded the market, and youth e-cigarette use has exploded, yet we currently know very little about the long-term health effects from exposure to the chemicals and nicotine common in most e-cigarettes.”

MinnPost file photo by Briana Bierschbach
Sen. Tina Smith
With or without the White House, Minnesotans in Congress intend to find a way to move forward. Last week, at a confirmation hearing for Trump’s nominee to be Commissioner of Food and Drugs, Smith wanted to know if the nominee, Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, would be willing to go through with the regulation proposed in September, no matter the “political influence.”

“Would you agree that as the head of the FDA, that you would have the authority, to advance that rule? To finalize that rule?” Smith asked.

“Senator, I’m always hesitant to opine on the law and regulation without having all the facts,” Hahn said with a smile.

Smith cut him off at the end of his sentence. “I’m pretty sure you’d have the authority,” she said, while Hahn chuckled. “But we can check that.”

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 11/26/2019 - 10:27 am.

    I admit I’m not well informed about vaping, but it’s my understanding that the deaths and illnesses are the result of people having concocted their own vaping fluid using marijuana oil and other intoxicants. It seems some continue to do this despite it being a well known danger.

    As we all know, you cannot legislate stupid.

  2. Submitted by Gene Nelson on 11/26/2019 - 10:34 am.

    Pretty sad that a politicians refuses to protect us because he fears he might lose some votes.

  3. Submitted by Ole Johnson on 11/26/2019 - 03:41 pm.

    “As of November 20, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 2,290 injuries and 47 deaths have been reported as a result of using e-cigarette or vaping products.”

    That statement is misleading at best. Anyone who hasn’t kept up with this story would believe that e-cigarettes were causing injuries and deaths.

    The CDC has actually come out and said that the cause for all those injuries and deaths have come from vitamin E acetate that is put in illicit THC vaping juice. (I guess technically that is a “vaping product”)

    The fact is that no established link between any legal e-cigarette product and injuries/deaths has been found.

    Scaring people with misinformation and making them go back to a product that is demonstrably more dangerous is unforgivable.

    • Submitted by Mike Chrun on 11/26/2019 - 04:27 pm.

      Quoting an M.D. and the research director of a cardiology research center connected with Johns Hopkins.

      “I think perhaps the #1 concern about vaping right now is the so-called gateway effect. Our own literature suggests that 2 million young adults use electronic cigarettes as their first nicotine-based product. They’re not trying to quit smoking — they’ve never smoked before.”

      Nicotine in any form is highly addictive. Vaping, using nicotine-laced products, can become a tenacious and expensive habit, and kids might not stop there.

      Blaha says there’s evidence that young people who vape are more likely to go on to use illicit drugs and tobacco products such as cigarettes.”

      One click later and I found a very similar viewpoint from a research doctor connected with Mayo. Once again, we have examples of the dear, great leader’s followers who bend over backwards to justify things he does. It’s not about “legislating stupid” or “scaring people.” It’s about an industry that quite blatantly targets young people into using a product that they think is harmless and quite cool. They are dealing with 6th and 7th graders who are using it in the middle school where I used to teach.

      But we’re not going to regulate because of lost votes–and also because those damn lefties want it? Word programs should just come up with a feature where any time “Republicans” is typed, the word “hypocritical” is inserted in front automatically.

      • Submitted by cory johnson on 11/27/2019 - 08:01 am.

        Speaking of hypocritical- Obama is a smoker. Speaking of hypocritical- Democrats can’t wait to legalize THC in every state. But I’m sure that’s not for votes or money.
        Also- I’m not surprised no one has mentioned that alcohol has killed way more kids in one year than vaping ever has or will.
        I don’t vape and have no interest. But its vaping nicotine is quite a bit safer than many other activities. Its the illegal products that are doing the most damage.

        • Submitted by Mike Chrun on 11/27/2019 - 12:25 pm.

          Surprised you didn’t somehow link Hillary in there also. My main point, that you ignore, is the targeting of young people and hooking them onto a product before they are out of school even. The hypocrisy comes from the typical babbling proclamation your great leader made in his pronouncement that he’s going to do something about the vaping problem. He even mentioned his own son as a reason for his actions. Or rath, in his brilliant oratory style, it was Melania’s son and he stumbled as if he wasn’t sure what his connection to “the fine young man” was. Well aware, the Democrats have their share of hypocrisy. But they’re not in power and the hypocrisy pales to the God-fearing, fiscally conservative, flag waving patriots that are led by Trump.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 11/27/2019 - 08:12 am.

      How about the link between legal e-cigarette products and the creation of nicotine addiction in youth who are too young to be using them legally?

  4. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 11/27/2019 - 10:02 am.

    “The president’s decision not to move forward on action to ban flavored e-cigarettes is yet another example of how his Administration prioritizes corporate interests over people,” said Klobuchar.

    Name me an administration that hasn’t put corporate interests before regular people?

    And of the dozen or so people running for pres on the Dem side, I would guess about 90% of them would do the same, including Sen Klobuchar

  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/27/2019 - 10:30 am.

    The “conservatives” here reflexively commit to profit and corporations over health, again. It worked with cigarettes for decades, why not with vaping?

    The idiocy of inhaling anything of a chemical nature into your lungs is a clear and present danger.

    …we also know that e-cigarettes contain chemicals like propylene glycol and glycerine, which, when heated, can release hundreds of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that may be harmful when inhaled. Indeed, a mouse study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation last month found that the inhalation of such chemicals, even in the absence of nicotine or THC, led to the mice’s lungs developing lipid-laden immune cells, an effect mimicking that of lipoid pneumonitis. Ultimately, there’s very little known about what actually happens to the chemicals in e-cigarettes when you heat and inhale them. In her media briefing, Schuchat said that the CDC was currently conducting “sophisticated studies…to try to analyze both the product and potentially the vapor or aerosol as well,” released by the heating of such chemicals. It’s also a huge question mark as to what the long-term health effects of vaping may be.

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