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E-cigarettes spark action from Trump

Move comes as Nashua reports alarming rates of vaping

NASHUA – Nearly 50% of students at Nashua High Schools North and South admit to at least trying vaping, while more than 80% said they observed classmates using the products in restrooms.

As Nashua School District officials work to deter vaping at the local level, on Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced plans to ban thousands of flavors used in e-cigarettes. The announcement could remake the multibillion-dollar vaping industry, which has been driven by sales of flavored nicotine formulas such as “grape slushie” and “strawberry cotton candy.”

The U.S. 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.

“I am glad to see that the Trump administration has announced plans to help address this crisis by banning flavored e-cigarettes,” U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., said on Wednesday in reaction. “We must protect our nation’s young people and hold e-cigarette companies accountable for the dangerous effects of their products.”

Trump, whose son Barron is 13 years old, said vaping has become such a problem that he wants parents to be aware of what’s happening. “We can’t allow people to get sick and we can’t have our youth be so affected,” Trump said.

Melania Trump recently tweeted her concerns over the combination of children and vaping, and at the meeting, the president said, “I mean, she’s got a son – together – that is a beautiful, young man, and she feels very, very strongly about it.”

The restrictions announced by Trump officials would only apply to nicotine vaping products, which are regulated by the FDA.

The FDA has had the authority to ban vaping flavors since 2016, but has previously resisted calls to take that step. Agency officials instead said they were studying if flavors could help smokers quit traditional cigarettes.

Parents, teachers and health advocates have increasingly called for a crackdown on flavors , arguing that they are overwhelmingly to blame for a recent surge in underage vaping by U.S. teens, particularly with small, discrete devices such as Juul’s.

“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 added in a prepared statement.

It will take several weeks to develop the flavor restrictions and implement the ban.

Significantly, the Trump plan is expected to bar menthol and mint vaping flavors. Administration officials have previously exempted those products from any sales restrictions because they were thought to be useful to adult smokers. Anti-vaping advocates criticized that decision, pointing to survey data showing roughly half of teens who vape use mint and menthol.

Federal health officials said Wednesday that preliminary data shows 1 in 4 high school students reported vaping this year, compared with 1 in 5 students in 2018. Federal health officials have called the trend an “epidemic,” and they fear teenagers who vape will eventually start smoking.

More than 80% of underage teens who use e-cigarettes say they picked their product because it “comes in flavors that I like,” according to government surveys.

A ban on flavors would be a huge blow to companies like San Francisco-based Juul, which sells mint, fruit and dessert flavored-nicotine pods.

Representatives for Juul did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Wednesday’s announcement came despite months of aggressive lobbying by Juul, which spent $1.9 million in the first half of the year to try and sway the White House, Congress and the FDA.

E-cigarettes have been on the U.S. market for more than a decade. FDA officials have repeatedly delayed enforcing regulations on them, responding to industry complaints that it would wipe out thousands of small vaping companies.

Most experts agree the aerosol from e-cigarettes is less harmful than cigarette smoke since it doesn’t contain most of the cancer-causing byproducts of burning tobacco. E-cigarettes generally heat liquid containing nicotine. But there is virtually no research on the long-term effects of vaping.

“It is our responsibility to address the public health crisis caused by the irresponsible youth marketing and design of e-cigarettes and vaping products,” Kuster added. “Across the nation, hundreds of young people have fallen ill, and tragically, some have died, due to e-cigarette use.

Staff Writer Grace Pecci also contributed to this report.