President Trump met with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), leaders of advocacy groups, and the head of multiple companies that produce vaping products to discuss the public health crisis called earlier this year after several vaping-related deaths.
During the meeting, President Trump repeatedly raised concerns over how prohibition may lead to a black market where Chinese or other companies could smuggle unsafe vaping liquids into the United States, and how a ban on flavored liquids may lead to a massive loss in jobs.
Executives from Juul, the leading e-cigarette manufacturer in the nation, suggested a possible solution was to raise the minimum age to buy the products to 21. This was met with some acceptance by government officials and advocacy groups, but other e-cigarette manufacturers were against the proposal.
After hearing that at least 100,000 people may lose their jobs as a result of banning flavored liquids, the president seemed to side with the vaping industry.
“The one thing I see though, and you watch prohibition, you look at the alcohol, you look at cigarettes… if you don’t give it to them, it’s going to come here illegally. They’re going to make it.”
He continued, “But instead of Reynolds or Juul or legitimate companies, good companies making something that’s safe, they’re going to be selling stuff on the street corner that’s going to be horrible.”
“You have to look at the history of it, and now instead of having a flavor that’s at least safe, they’re going to be having a flavor that’s poison. That’s a big problem.”
The president noted fears that China may open up factories and sell unsafe versions. Industry leaders noted that this may already be happening, as bodegas in New York are selling inauthentic flavors of Juul pods that have been off the market for months.
Anti-vape advocacy groups repeatedly brought up the rise in youth using electronic cigarettes, and did not respond to fears of prohibition leading to counterfeits.
“All I’m saying is if we take out flavors, won’t they just be made illegally, the same flavor but it may be unsafe,” asked the president.
The anti-vape groups reiterated that they believe that banning flavors will prevent children from vaping, leading the industry experts to note that flavors are used by adults to quit smoking.
This prompted Romney to insert, “Adults are not using flavors,” which in turn prompted a flurry of condemnation from the industry executives, who have data suggesting flavored usage is instrumental in helping adult smokers abandon tobacco use in favor of vaping.
Romney then pointed out that Juul does not sell flavored liquids, grinning.
At this point, the industry leaders pointed out that there is a substantial difference between the “new vaping industry,” with companies like Juul mass producing cartridges that are sold in gas stations and convenience stores, and “the old vaping industry” which relies in “mom and pop” brick and mortar vape stores.
According to the industry leaders, the majority of children using vape products are using products from the “new vaping industry.”
Romney continued falling back to the number of children using the products.
“We have 6 million kids addicted to nicotine,” said Romney. “And they’re getting addicted because of flavors,” said Romney.
He continued, “We have to put the kids first.”
President Trump at one point asked the executives sent by Juul whether they believe they made the right decision in discontinuing the sale of flavored liquids, and the company said that they took a responsible course of action.
This prompted another industry leader to point out that after Juul removed its popular mango flavor, youth use continued to rise regardless.
When a pediatrician recommended banning all forms of liquid, flavored or otherwise, President Trump simply asked “How do you suggest we solve the counterfeit problem?”
President Trump offered, “So none of these companies are going to do it, they all have legit companies. How do you solve the fact that it’s going to be shipped in from Mexico?
She responded that she hopes the government would somehow address such a problem without offering any solutions.
The president replied, “Well, it’s a problem. You have the same problem with drugs and everything else.”