Bay Area Vaping Critics Praise Trump Administration Plans to Ban Flavored Products

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An e-cigarette user exhales nicotine-infused vapor. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Bay Area critics of vaping are praising the Trump administration's announcement Wednesday that it is preparing a national ban on flavored vaping products.

The administration’s move comes amid rising concerns over an outbreak of potential lung disease linked to the products. Hundreds of people around the country have recently been sickened, including 62 in the state and at least six in the Bay Area. Nationally, six people have died. No single device, ingredient or additive has been identified as the cause of the lung disease, though many cases involve marijuana vaping devices.

Dr. John Maa, chief surgeon at Marin General Hospital and former president of the San Francisco Marin Medical Society, called the move "an important step to protect youth."

The Food and Drug Administration plans to develop guidelines to remove from the market all e-cigarette flavors except tobacco, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday. Azar made his comments during an Oval Office appearance with President Trump, first lady Melania Trump and acting Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Norman "Ned" Sharpless.

Maa said he’s “particularly pleased that this has become a national movement,” with San Francisco leading the way in 2018 by banning the local sale of flavored vaping products. The city’s Board of Supervisors followed up in June with a ban on all e-cigarette devices until they go through the FDA approval process.


In a statement to KQED, San Francisco Supervisor Shamann Walton, who authored the legislation banning e-cigarettes, said city officials have always known that vaping and e-cigarettes are harmful.

“Our work has forced everyone to look at the negative health impacts related to e-cigarettes and vaping,” Shamann said.

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A national ban on flavors could be a huge blow to companies like Juul Labs, the San Francisco-based company that dominates the e-cigarette market. The company has grown into a multibillion-dollar business by selling mint, fruit and dessert flavored nicotine products.

"We strongly agree with the need for aggressive category-wide action on flavored products," Juul Labs spokesman Ted Kwong wrote in an email to KQED. "We will fully comply with the final FDA policy when effective."

The Trump administration’s concern over e-cigarettes has been growing with reports that the number of teenagers vaping has exploded. Federal law prohibits e-cigarette and all other tobacco sales to those under 18. But last year, one in five high school students reported vaping in the past month, according to government survey figures.

In the past, FDA officials have said they were studying if flavors could help smokers quit traditional cigarettes, as companies like Juul have argued.

But in a letter on Monday, the FDA blasted Juul for illegally pitching its products as a safer alternative to smoking and ordered the company to stop making unproven claims. In response to the letter, a spokesman for Juul said the company would fully cooperate with federal health authorities.

Juul is currently sponsoring a November 2019 ballot measure, Proposition C, to overturn San Francisco’s ban on e-cigarettes unless approved by the FDA. There's no word yet on how this development in Washington, D.C. might impact that effort.

Reporting from the Associated Press was used in this post.