By Steve Holland and Makini Brice
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday expressed concerns that enacting his administration’s proposed ban on many flavored e-cigarette and vaping products would lead to people obtaining them illegally.
Trump also raised worries during a raucous meeting with public health and industry representatives that illegal e-cigarette and vaping products could be substandard.
“If you don’t give it to them, it’s going to come here illegally,” Trump said.
Seated next to U.S. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, who wants children protected from flavored vaping products, Trump listened to the back-and-forth for nearly an hour, peppering each side with questions to try to determine the best way forward.
The Trump administration said in September it would unveil a sweeping ban on most e-cigarette and vaping flavors seen as attracting young users to addictive nicotine products. But concerns about the potential loss of jobs has prompted him to revisit the issue.
The Trump administration’s announcement that it would take action comes amid public alarm over a mysterious U.S. vaping-related respiratory illness that has sickened more than 2,000 people and killed 47.
On Friday, Trump, who is gearing up for a 2020 re-election race and trumpets the strength of the U.S. economy daily, was warned by an e-cigarette executive that a ban on the products could lead to a loss of at least 100,000 jobs.
Harold Wimmer, the head of the American Lung Association, pushed for a ban on all e-cigarette and vaping flavors.
“That’s a big statement,” Trump said.
Wimmer told Trump that his stance was comparable to what Trump had announced in September.
Greg Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, accused the sector’s critics of being funded by a billionaire politician and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“That’s obnoxious,” someone replied.
In September, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Bloomberg’s charity, announced it was launching a $160 million program aimed at ending youth e-cigarette use.
“This is one of the most important causes of his life and he will never back down in the face of their criticisms,” Jean Weinberg, a spokeswoman for Bloomberg Philanthropies, said in an emailed statement.
More than 27.5% of American high school students use e-cigarettes, up from 20.7% in 2018, according to a U.S. government study. Evidence has shown that youth exposure to nicotine affects brain development and makes them more susceptible to nicotine addiction in the future.
“It’s the flavors that are drawing the kids in. It’s a health emergency … We have to put the kids first,” said Romney, adding that half of high school students in his state use vaping products.
Romney, in a tweet later on Friday, said he would continue his own push for legislation to ban flavors, make vaping cartridges tamper-proof and bar e-cigarettes from schools.
Trump reiterated on Friday that his administration was considering raising the age to buy such products to 21. But he indicated that no final decision had been made.
“We’ll let you know … We want to take care of our kids,” he said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Makini Brice; Additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman)