Trump may back off planned e-cigarette flavoring ban and allow mint and menthol, to the pleasure of tobacco companies

Trump tweeted this after his campaign manger raised concerns.

President Trump’s campaign manager has warned him that his plan to ban most flavored electronic cigarettes “could backfire in the 2020 election,” placing Trump’s re-election campaign in the middle of a governmental debate over a major public-health issue,” report Michael Scherer, Josh Dawsey, Laurie McGinley and Neena Satija of The Washington Post.
“The political lobbying effort comes as the Trump administration is considering whether to continue allowing menthol- and mint-flavored e-cigarette products, according to three people familiar with the deliberations,”  the Post reports. “Allowing these sales would mark a major retreat from a proposed ban announced in September on ‘all non-tobacco’ flavors. Government data shows that nearly two-thirds of high schoolers who use ­e-cigarettes use mint or menthol flavors.”

Campaign manager Brad Parscale has polling that indicates “Trump supporters who use e-cigarettes could abandon the president if he follows through on a ban, according to a person familiar with the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations,” the Post reports. “Instead, this person said, Parscale has suggested reframing the issue away from flavors to other steps that the government can take to prevent youth use of the products, including a ban on sales of e-cigarettes to anyone under 21, a requirement that stores limit access by locking the products up, and stiffer penalties for selling to underage consumers.”

The White House is deliberating whether to allow menthol and mint flavors, which “would benefit the largest e-cigarette producer, Juul Labs,” the Post notes. Another option is allowing only menthol “on the theory that it is less sweet and the sole flavor permitted in cigarettes, said two people familiar with the deliberations.”

That prospect angered anti-tobacco activists and health groups.

“Excluding menthol would be huge; it means that kids will buy menthol,” Desmond Jenson, an attorney with the Public Health Law Center at the Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minn., told the Post. “If you give them one flavor, that’s what they will buy. It doesn’t solve the problem.”

Trump’s first Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, “said Friday that the harm to youths of allowing mint and menthol flavors outweighs the benefit to adults of having flavored options,” the Post reports.

“If mint and menthol e-cigs remain on the market, the biggest beneficiaries are tobacco companies like Altria and Reynolds which mass-produce these products, harming kids who are largely using these brands,” Gottlieb said. “Data suggests that adults who use e-cigs to successfully quit smoking aren’t using these same products.”

Juul Labs, “the largest e-cigarette company, has removed all flavors from the market except tobacco, menthol and mint, and it said recently that it was reviewing whether to suspend sales of the latter two,” the Post notes. “Mint and menthol accounted for almost 60 percent of Juul’s $3.3 billion in retail sales in the United States last year, according to a Wells Fargo analyst report from last month.” Altria Group, the leading maker of traditional cigarettes, owns 35 percent of Juul.

Greg Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, told the Post that mint and menthol aren’t big sellers at vape shops, and keeping them on the market wouldn’t save retailers.

The Post notes that the president’s wife and daughter, Melania and Ivanka Trump, “have been helping to lead the push for a crackdown on youth use of e-cigarettes.” The first lady attended the Sept. 11 Oval Office announcement by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and acting FDA Commissioner Norman “Ned” Sharpless about the proposed ban.

Azar said at that event, citing recent research, “The youth are drawn to flavored e-cigarettes, including mint and menthol.”

“Parscale reached out to President Trump after that event to say that the decision was being made too quickly and that Trump needed more data, according to a person familiar with the conversation,” the Post reports. “Trump released a cryptic tweet on Sept. 13, which suggested the possibility of a different approach than the one Azar had announced.”

“While I like the Vaping alternative to Cigarettes, we need to make sure this alternative is SAFE for ALL!” Trump wrote. “Let’s get counterfeits off the market, and keep young children from Vaping!”

The Oval Office announcement surprised the electronic-cigarette industry. It fought back, and found allies close to Trump. “Senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway suggested to reporters Friday that menthol could be viewed as a type of tobacco flavoring,” the Post notes, quoting her: “I recognize that menthol tastes like tobacco. Many adults like menthol.”

“Flavors are vaping. Vaping is flavors,” said Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, an anti-regulation group. He wouldn’t tell the Post whether he or his group have gotten money from the e-cigarette industry. The Post adds, “Conservative activists and trade groups organized a protest by e-cigarette users at a recent Trump rally in Dallas.”

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