WASHINGTON — Trump administration officials, alarmed by new data showing a huge jump in e-cigarette use by young people, said they are moving to ban most flavored e-cigarettes, a major development that could result in sweeping changes in the sprawling e-cigarette market.
In an Oval Office meeting Wednesday that included the first lady, Melania Trump, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and acting Food and Drug Commissioner Norman ‘‘Ned’’ Sharpless, President Trump said, ‘‘We can’t allow people to get sick. And we can’t have our kids be so affected.’’
He added that the first lady, who on Tuesday tweeted a warning about vaping, feels ‘‘very, very strongly’’ about the issue because of their 13-year-old son, Barron.
Azar said the administration intends to ‘‘clear the market’’ of flavored e-cigarettes to reverse a worsening vaping epidemic. He said preliminary data from the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed a continued, troubling rise in youth e-cigarette use. The data showed more than a quarter of high school students have used e-cigarettes in the prior 30 days — up from a little over a fifth in 2018.
The overwhelming majority of students said they used fruity, menthol, or mint flavors.
The administration’s move comes as health officials across the country investigate more than 450 cases, including six deaths, of lung disease linked to vaping. Many patients have reported using cannabis-related products, but the authorities have not ruled out any specific type of vaping. With the picture still murky, vaping critics have seized the moment to press for tougher regulation of conventional e-cigarettes, which come in sweet and fruity flavors that have been embraced by many young people.
Azar said the FDA is working to finalize a plan on flavored e-cigarettes in the next several weeks that would be likely to take effect a month after that. The policy, he said, would require the removal from the market of most flavored-e-cigarettes, including mint and menthol. The flavored products would not be allowed back on the market until — and if — they receive specific approval from the FDA.
The policy being developed wouldn’t affect tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes, whose manufacturers would have until May to file for approval.
People on both sides of the issue said the industry might sue the FDA to try to block the policy.
Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health is mandating that clinicians report any suspected cases of “ unexplained e-cigarette or vaping-associated” lung disease to state officials.
The state’s public health commissioner, Dr. Monica Bharel, said Wednesday that the department was “actively investigating” approximately 10 vaping-associated lung illnesses, as the number of such illnesses and deaths climbs nationwide.
But the department said it had not confirmed any cases in Massachusetts.
The order to report suspected vaping-related illnesses covers a wide swath of the medical community, including pediatricians, nurse practitioners, and family doctors.
“It’s a public health call to action,” Bharel said at a press conference Wednesday.
Bharel said in a statement that the mandate “establishes the legal framework for health care providers to report cases and suspected cases so that we can get a better sense of the overall burden of disease in Massachusetts.”
It will also help state officials track cases in Massachusetts and provide data to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the federal agency works to understand the increasing numbers of illnesses.
Despite some reports that a compound called vitamin E acetate in some vaporizers may be causing the illnesses, Bharel said health officials haven’t found a single link to all the hundreds of reported cases.
Nor is it clear what’s causing the problem: nicotine, a marijuana compound, or an unrelated additive, Bharel said.
The only consistent feature is that the patients reported using an e-cigarette within the previous 90 days.
“It’s really concerning,” Bharel said. “Any time we have a disease where we don’t understand what’s causing it, it understandably causes a lot of anxiety.”
On Tuesday, officials in Kansas reported that a resident over age 50 HAD died of the lung illness, the nation’s sixth confirmed death linked to vaping. Five previous vaping-related deaths WERE confirmed in California, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, and Oregon.
Matt Myers, president of the anti-tobacco group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the federal plan is a ‘‘long way from the finish line,’’ but added, ‘‘if, in fact, they pull flavored e-cigarettes from the market it is an extraordinary step in the face of a real crisis.’’
He said flavored e-cigarettes are fueling an epidemic of youth e-cigarette use ‘‘which apparently has gotten dramatically worse over the last year.’’
The Vapor Technology Administration, an industry group, said it would be a ‘‘public health travesty’’ to ban flavored e-cigarettes.
Such ‘‘government overreach,’’ the group said, would result in the closing of thousands of small vape shops and force many Americans ‘‘to switch back to deadly cigarettes.’’
Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, a consumer group, warned that ‘‘In the history of the United States, prohibition has never worked.’’
Kay Lazar and Felicia Gans of the Globe staff contributed to this report.