Recently, the Trump administration took the laudable step of announcing a proposed ban on all flavored e-cigarettes in the United States. Recognizing that we are in the midst of a youth vaping epidemic, as well as the sudden explosion of vaping-related lung illnesses and deaths, the president rightly sprung into action. Flavors are a gateway to vaping, addiction, illness and even death, and by removing them from the market, we can take a serious bite out of this tragic crisis.
Predictably, vaping giant Juul, who is more than one-third owned by tobacco giant Altria, is quietly trying to chip away at the flavor ban to protect its own profits. Juul notably took pre-emptive action last week to stop selling its flavored vapor pods online. Notably, this action excludes “menthol-based” products, which includes mint and traditional menthol.
Now, the rumor mill in Washington suggests that the administration may relent and carve these flavors out of the federal regulation, clearly as a result of Big Tobacco’s pressure campaign.
If this were to happen, it would completely undermine the purpose of the flavor ban. Mint is every bit as much a flavor as mango or cotton candy. Stand at any gas station counter and watch the Juul flavors kids are buying.
The only people suggesting that mint is not a flavor, apparently, are Big Tobacco lobbyists, who have been upping their lobbying game to keep these flavors on the market. In fact, in 2018, Juul spent $1.6 million on lobbying to fight the FDA, and that number is only increasing; from April-June 2019 alone Juul spent $1.01 million – its most expensive quarter to date – to protect these flavors.
In fact, mint and menthol aren’t just flavors – they’re the flavors young people most prefer. So far this year, they have accounted for two-thirds of youth use.
They’re also highly profitable for Juul – to the tune of $2 billion annually and 70 percent of the company’s total sales. This is an existential issue for Juul, hence the quiet lobbying campaign.
So, we have a situation where the 800-pound gorilla in the e-cigarette market is pushing to reinstate the flavors most popular with youth and most profitable to its own bottom line. Yet the company claims to be a partner with the government in combating youth use. Who on earth could believe them? Is the cynical public relations move of preemptively ending sales of non-mint and menthol vapor supposed to convince us of anything? Why in the world would we trust their PR efforts at all?
Earlier this month, a number of conservative organizations released a letter supporting the president’s proposed flavor ban. In it, they wrote, “Until e-cigarette companies are willing to abide by current restrictions on youth sales and further research is conducted by the CDC and FDA regarding the health consequences associated with e-cigarettes/vaping, we approve of the Trump Administration’s decision to halt flavored e-cigarettes to protect consumers, particularly youth.”
The goal is obvious, and stated at the end of that passage: Protect consumers, particularly youth. The objective of Juul and Big Tobacco is also obvious: Protect profits, period. The Trump administration should not be duped by this shameless ploy to pad e-cigarette company profits. The Administration must stand strong, and commit to a true, all-encompassing flavor ban that protects young people.
Chad Connelly is the Founder and CEO of Faith Wins and the former director of faith engagement for the Republican National Committee.