The Trump administration announced Thursday that it will ban the sale of flavored e-cigarette cartridges or disposable “pods,” but will allow menthol- and tobacco-flavored pods and flavored nicotine liquids sold for open-tank systems at vape stores.
Pod-based systems, such as Juul, have grown popular with teenagers in part because of their convenience, smaller smoke clouds, and thumb-drive size compared to the larger open-tank devices.
Consumers in Massachusetts won’t be affected because state law already is more restrictive than the new federal policy, which begins next month. But other New England states with less stringent policies will see changes.
Here is what you need to know.
Why did the Trump administration take this action?
Teenage nicotine vaping has exploded, with recent federal surveys showing one in four high school seniors used nicotine e-cigarettes in the past month. The rise came as thousands of flavored vape products emerged that youth advocates said appealed to children, such as bubblegum and cotton candy.
Officials said the policy was aimed at striking “the right public health balance” between curbing youth vaping and keeping options for adult smokers trying to quit combustible cigarettes.
The move also reflected a political calculus in an election year, weighing the interests of parents amid aggressive lobbying by the vaping industry and vape enthusiasts that followed Trump’s original plan in September to ban all flavored e-cigarettes.
“The United States has never seen an epidemic of substance use arise as quickly as our current epidemic of youth use of e-cigarettes,” Alex Azar, the health and human services secretary, said in a news release. “We will not stand idly by as this crisis among America’s youth grows and evolves, and we will continue monitoring the situation and take further actions as necessary.”
While the health risks of nicotine vaping are not completely known or understood, federal health officials say an outbreak last fall of deadly lung injuries associated with vaping was largely caused by vitamin E acetate, an additive used in marijuana oil vapes, not nicotine ones. Most of the products that made people sick came from informal or illicit sources, though investigators warned there could be multiple causes.
How will the change affect Massachusetts and other New England states?
It won’t affect product availability in Massachusetts. Last fall, the state passed the nation’s most restrictive vaping law. It bans the retail sale of all flavored e-cigarettes and cigarettes, including menthol — restricting those products to adults-only smoking bars for on-site consumption.
However, many Massachusetts vape consumers have traveled to New Hampshire and other nearby states for flavored vapes since they became unavailable. With the action by the Trump, administration, those consumers will now face smaller selection in nearby states.
Rhode Island has temporarily banned flavored e-cigarettes, and state leaders are pushing to make the ban permanent. Maine and Connecticut have unsuccessfully tried to ban flavors, in the face of industry opposition. Vermont’s governor has advocated for a ban.
What do public health advocates say about Trump’s move?
The American Medical Association and other groups said the policy was a good step, but didn’t go far enough considering the scope of the teen vaping epidemic. Menthol products, they said, are already popular among youths.
Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, a pediatrician at Massachusetts General Hospital who studies tobacco control, said teenagers in states outside of Massachusetts will likely migrate to the allowed flavors, either menthol pods or the open-tank systems.
“Fortunately in Massachusetts, the Legislature on a bipartisan basis had the good sense to do what the Trump administration was unwilling to do,” Winickoff said, “which was protect children’s health over commercial and industry interests.”
Winickoff said Massachusetts’ restrictions will reduce access for teens, making them less likely to want to keep vaping or start in the first place. He said he has already seen promising changes among his young patients.
What does the vaping industry say?
Industry groups declared a partial victory, saying their pressure on social media, at rallies, and in ads changed Trump’s initial plan to ban all vaping flavors. They praised the new policy as keeping more than 10,000 vape stores afloat nationwide, and helping roughly 10 million adults who vape nicotine to stay off combustible cigarettes.
Adults whose favorite products disappear next month will likely be able to find other flavored vapes that satisfy them, said Gregory Conley, president of the industry-funded American Vaping Association.
“Unfortunately, this does nothing for the great people of Massachusetts,” Conley said. “They’ll have to continue to drive over the border to New Hampshire and other states to acquire products that can help them quit Marlboros.”