WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump last week met with vape industry executives to discuss the youth e-cigarette epidemic, two months after he sat next to the Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and watched him tell reporters that the Food and Drug Administration was preparing to remove almost all flavored e-cigarettes off the market.
But in early November, the Washington Post reported the president changed his mind, hesitant to support the move without examining the impact the ban would have on jobs and his campaign.
Meanwhile, in the House, the Energy and Commerce Committee has been advancing a bill since October that would achieve the same thing and even go a few steps further.
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo has voiced her support for a tough new bill that would ban all flavored e-cigarettes, ban online sales of e-cigarettes and raise the minimum age for buying tobacco products to 21. The Reversing Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act, or H.R. 2339, was approved by all the Democrats on the committee Tuesday — putting it one step closer for a floor vote in the House.
San José Spotlight caught up with Eshoo to discuss the initiative before she flew back to California for Thanksgiving break.
“There’s a crisis among young people,” Eshoo said.
Eshoo has used that phrase many times in the past month when discussing underaged children and adolescents using e-cigarettes. Several federal health officials have publicly said the same thing. Azar briefed the president on startling new data during his Sept. 11 visit to the White House.
According to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey, five million middle and high school students in the United States said they’d used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days. The survey also showed that youth are drawn to flavored e-cigarettes, including mint and menthol.
“An entire generation of children risk becoming addicted to nicotine because of the attractiveness, appealability and availability of these vaping products,” said Azar.
Back home in Eshoo’s Silicon Valley district, the Public Health Department in Santa Clara County reported one in three local teens has tried vaping, according to a survey of 6,000 teens. The national rate of use by high school students increased by 78 percent between 2017-18.
In November, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously banned the sale and distribution of all vaping products for anyone under 21 years old in the unincorporated areas. The county joined a host of others this year that banned the sale of e-cigarettes and flavored tobacco, including San Francisco and Livermore.
In San Jose, East Side Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco also called for a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes and flavored tobacco products in the nation’s 10th largest city. Her proposal passed a council committee and is headed to the full City Council for consideration.
Experts says mint, menthol and fruity flavors are the most popular with underaged smokers. Juul has recently acknowledged the link between flavors and usage, announcing plans this month to cease online sales of mint flavored pods and no longer restock retail stores with that flavor.
But not everyone is on board with H.R. 2339, especially raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products.
Republicans on the committee asked about the inherent right adults have to make their own medical decisions. Others mentioned cigarette use amongst military service members, who at 18 are old enough to sacrifice their life for the country but may be banned from using a product they enjoy. But none of those arguments have deterred Eshoo.
“I think my constituents will fully support it,” she says.
Just this past summer, surgeon generals from several branches of the military said using tobacco products compromised combat readiness by threatening the health and fitness of the armed forces. Eshoo pointed to such statements when pushing back during hearings.
“I think that there’s an added layer of responsibility here because the administration, the president, backed off of his proposal to ban flavored e-cigarettes,” said Eshoo.
Next, the congressional budget office will issue a report estimating the bill’s costs before it comes to the House floor in the coming weeks.