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Trump Administration Breaks Its Promise to Kids and Families to Eliminate Flavored E-Cigarettes, Prioritizes Industry Over the Health of Our Kids

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
January 01, 2020

WASHINGTON, DC – The e-cigarette policy announced today by the Trump Administration breaks the Administration’s promise to kids and families to eliminate the flavored e-cigarettes that are driving an epidemic of youth nicotine addiction. By leaving menthol flavored e-cigarettes widely available and completely exempting liquid flavored products, this policy will not stop the youth e-cigarette epidemic. It is a capitulation to both Juul and vape shops and gives a green light to the e-cigarette industry to continue to target and addict kids with flavored products.

There should be no question: The Administration has sided with Juul, Altria, the vape shops and other e-cigarette interests over our kids. Describing the policy to the media, President Trump said that while we have to protect families, “At the same time, it’s a big industry. We want to protect the industry.”

The evidence is clear that flavored e-cigarettes are driving the youth epidemic. Most youth e-cigarettes users use flavored products and cite flavors as a key reason for their use. Only the elimination of all flavored e-cigarettes can end the worsening youth e-cigarette epidemic and stop e-cigarette companies from luring and addicting kids with flavored products.

Rather than clear the market of all flavored e-cigarettes, as the Administration promised to do in September, the new policy allows menthol flavored e-cigarettes and flavored liquids in every imaginable flavor to remain widely available — and kids no doubt will be able to get their hands on them.

The Administration’s decision to exempt menthol e-cigarettes and all flavored e-liquids creates a giant loophole that benefits Juul — the company that created the youth epidemic — and irresponsible vape shops, leaving America’s kids at risk. Instead of keeping its promise to kids and parents to clear the market of all flavored e-cigarettes, the Administration has adopted the exact policy on e-cigarette flavors that Juul announced in November.

This policy falls woefully short of the bold action the Administration promised to address what it rightly called “the deeply concerning epidemic of youth e-cigarette use that is impacting children, families, schools and communities.”

The evidence indicates that if menthol e-cigarettes are left on the market, kids will shift to them. The National Youth Tobacco Survey shows that youth use of mint or menthol e-cigarettes soared in 2019 after Juul restricted the availability of other flavors such as mango. Under the Administration’s new policy, the likely result is that kids will now shift from mint to menthol. Decades of experience with menthol cigarettes demonstrate that menthol appeals to kids – in fact, over half of current youth smokers smoke menthol cigarettes.

Juul is well-prepared to exploit this menthol loophole by reclassifying its popular mint products as menthol. Juul has repeatedly described mint as a “menthol-based” flavor, and The Wall Street Journal has reported that Juul is considering renaming its mint pods as a “menthol variant.”

There is no public health justification for allowing continued sales of menthol e-cigarettes.

Additionally, the e-cigarette industry has already demonstrated the danger of allowing flavored e-liquids. Data from the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey, published in JAMA, found that after Juul, Suorin and Smok are the most popular e-cigarette devices among high school students. 7.8% of high school e-cigarette users reported using Suorin and 3.1% reported using Smok. These prevalence estimates are solely from write-in responses, since Suorin and Smok were not listed as options in the questionnaire, so actual use rates are likely higher. Both Suorin and Smok are open pod systems. Unlike Juul, which sells pre-filled, closed cartridges, Suorin and Smok devices come with empty, refillable pods that can be filled with e-liquids of varying nicotine strengths and flavors.

The Administration’s failure to protect our kids makes it even more critical that Congress, states and cities do so by quickly prohibiting the sale of all flavored e-cigarettes. There is no time to waste because this youth epidemic continues to get worse and more than 5.3 million kids now use e-cigarettes, including over 1 in 4 (27.5%) of high school students. Policymakers at all levels must act now to stop Juul and other companies from addicting a new generation of kids with flavored products.