WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Trump administration is reconsidering last month’s pledge to ban popular mint and menthol vaping products in order to stem use among underage consumers, according to Bloomberg.
Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services, said in September that the administration would ban all flavors of vaping products, except tobacco flavor. But according to insiders, the administration is reconsidering a ban on mint and menthol.
The unresolved deliberations show that the administration is struggling with a complex political issue about a product that’s linked to a growing number of illnesses and deaths, but whose advocates say is less harmful than smoking. Health officials have said tobacco, mint and menthol are more popular among adults, while minors prefer other flavors. Government statistics released at the time of Azar’s announcement showed 64% of high-school vapers had used mint or menthol, behind only fruit flavors.
“The conversation is less about flavors and more about adults and youth,” said Kellyanne Conway, White House counselor. “And we recognize that menthol tastes—I recognize menthol tastes like tobacco. Many adults like menthol. Many adults like flavors.”
Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, has told the president that internal polling shows that a ban on the flavored products could cost votes in the 2020 election, according to people familiar with the matter. Trump advisers also concluded a ban wouldn’t help win votes with college-educated, suburban women.
Azar’s announcement that the U.S. would pull flavors other than tobacco came on Sept. 11 in the Oval Office. He was joined by Trump and First Lady Melania Trump. He repeatedly said mint and menthol would be included in the ban.
“These products are still getting to kids, and we cannot let a whole generation get addicted to them through mint and menthol and other flavors,” Azar told reporters that day. He said producers could reapply to sell flavored products after proving a net-health benefit, likely by demonstrating they reduce smoking. But the potential ban has become more controversial as lung injuries linked to vaping continue to rise.
The timetable for a ban is unclear. Six weeks ago, Azar said it would take “several weeks” to put out the final guidance, and that the new restrictions would be effective 30 days after that. Last week, the FDA said it planned to finalize a policy in “coming weeks.”
As reported in NACS Daily, last week JUUL Labs Inc., the largest e-cigarette maker in the U.S., announced it would quit selling most nicotine pod flavors nationwide. Fruit and dessert flavors, which the company was selling to people over 21 through its website, are no longer available in the U.S. pending a review by the FDA, JUUL said. The company will continue selling mint, menthol and tobacco flavor pods in stores and online for now. JUUL says it is not lobbying the administration on the issue and will comply with the final policy, whatever it is.
The administration has received mixed feedback from congressional Republicans, with some supporting the ban as announced last month and others opposing it. Republican lawmakers—including Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, North Carolina Congressman Richard Hudson and Virginia Congressman Morgan Griffith—have publicly expressed concern about a full ban. Hudson said it’s “not good policy making to ban legal products.”