On September 11, President Donald Trump said he was going to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. The announcement came just as a mysterious and deadly lung illness with ties to vaping swept across the country. But two months later, he still hasn’t moved forward with any of those promises.
“We can’t have our kids be so affected,” Trump said that day in September. First Lady Melania Trump was with him. “She’s got a son,” Trump said, referencing their teenager, Barron, and starting an unstoppably funny joke on Twitter. “She feels very strongly about it.”
As of November 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that 42 people in the U.S. have died and 2,172 more became ill as a result of some unknown disease believed to be linked with vaping. Since no health experts could pinpoint what, exactly, was causing the illness, the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration have warned against continued usage of e-cigarettes and THC vaping products. As a result, many states have begun cracking down: New York officially banned most flavored nicotine vaping products and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker declared the crisis a public health emergency and declared a four-month state-wide ban on online and retail sales of all marijuana and tobacco vaping products. Michigan, Rhode Island, Montana, Washington, Oregon, and California all also implemented similar bans.
But then, political advisers and lobbyists alike began pressuring Washington to stop any ban on a federal level — especially if the president wanted to win reelection in 2020. According to the New York Times, Trump decided to hold back on taking any actions on vaping, including a simple ban on e-cigarettes that didn’t have menthol. He reportedly wants to study the issue, but it’s unclear what timeline the White House or the Department of Health is operating on, if any.
“Based on recent press reports, politics not public health are driving the decisions on combatting the youth e-cigarette epidemic,” Robin Koval, the CEO and president of the Truth Initiative, told MTV News. “The administration should implement the plan it promised the nation on September 11 as time is of the essence.” Koval pointed out that over 27.5 percent of young people in high schools are vapers or have vaped, and stressed that “the worsening youth e-cigarette epidemic will not miraculously get better on its own. The health of America's youth must come first and is not for sale or political gain.”
While modern vaping started in 2003 when Chinese inventor Hon Lik invented the e-cigarette, it didn’t gain popularity in the U.S. until the 2010s. Since then, there hasn’t been a lot of regulation on e-cigarettes of any kind — and the vaping black market is particularly deregulated.
There’s some solid evidence that vitamin E oil found in off-market THC vape products could be what’s causing some of the vaping-related lung injuries, NBC News reported. But while there’s much we don’t know about vaping and the effect it has on users,advocates argue that waiting for studies isn’t going to help anyone.
“It’s not accurate to say that ‘the jury is still out’ regarding whether or not vaping products are safe,” Linda Richter, the director of policy research and analysis for the Center on Addiction told MTV News in an email. “There’s a large and growing body of research that consistently demonstrates the various health risks of vaping and its negative effects on the respiratory, cardiovascular, and reproductive systems, as well on immune function.”
Richter added that vaping is “especially harmful to young people, since the use of any addictive product, including nicotine, during adolescence increases the risk of addiction and other substance use.”
But change doesn’t have to depend on the president signing an executive order to ban anything. Congress is currently working on the Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2019, introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) and Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL) in August. It would ban all flavored vaping products, raise the legal age of sale for all vaping products to 21, and prohibit manufacturers from marketing the products to young people. This comes after a Reuters investigation found that executives Juul, a prominent e-cigarette company, knew that the company was attracting young people to its product but willfully overlooked the data.
“Congress must act to reduce youth nicotine addiction by making it clear that selling tobacco products to kids is illegal,” Rep. Pallone said in a press release. “My legislation also treats e-cigarettes and other tobacco products the same as traditional cigarettes under the law. We cannot afford to wait — we are on the cusp of losing an entirely new generation to a lifetime of nicotine addiction.”