Federal regulators are expected to announce a ban on electronic cigarette flavors other than tobacco and menthol within days, although it's unclear if mint flavors will be allowed or reformulated as menthol.
Another possible exemption could be vaping products sold in vape stores rather than convenience stores, which is where the under-aged youth who are the focus of the ban often shop.
In March, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb proposed banning flavors other than tobacco in convenience stores, but said more would have to be done if youth vaping rates continued to rise. He said this week e-cigarette company Juul could rename its mass produced mint flavor menthol, but noted the company is facing so much scrutiny it might decline to do so.
On Wednesday, White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway suggested regulators don't have authority over vape stores. Gottlieb had no comment on Conway's statement, but a group of medical and advocacy groups condemned such an exemption.
"If vape shops are allowed to continue selling flavored e-cigarettes, kids will find ways to obtain them," said a Wednesday statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and Truth Initiative.
President Trump announced in September flavors other than tobacco would be banned, prompting a torrent of lobbying from pro-vaping groups and users. As the Administration appeared to soften on an outright ban, opponents of vaping also stepped up their vocal opposition to such a move.
The action comes amid a nationwide outbreak of more than 1,600 cases of vaping-related lung injuries resulting in at least 34 deaths. Vaping products containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, account for the vast majority of cases.
A sign of the imminent ban announcement came Monday, when the Office of Management and Budget said it concluded its review of the rule and cancelled upcoming meetings with industry and consumer interests. Conway also said an announcement was coming soon.
On Tuesday, the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published findings highlighted in September when Trump and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced the planned ban. E-cigarette use among high school students more than doubled from 2017 to 2019 to 27.5%. About 5.3 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes this year, up from 3.6 million in 2018.
Another study, also published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found after Juul stopped selling mango and other flavors in November, high school students simply switched to mint.