President Donald Trump said he’s planning to meet with vaping-industry representatives and medical professionals as the White House considers new limits on the sale of e-cigarettes.
The announcement appeared to catch federal regulators as well as pro-vaping groups by surprise. The debate over new restrictions has pitted health advocates concerned about teen nicotine habits against small businesses who say tighter rules would destroy a growing industry.
Trump called the issue a “dilemma” in a tweet on Monday. “Children’s health & safety, together with jobs, will be a focus!” Trump wrote. Trump has said he is planning to raise the age limit for vaping products to 21 or so.
A recent surge in underage use of e-cigarettes prompted Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to say in September that the administration would put tighter restrictions on flavored nicotine vaping products. At the time, Azar suggested that most flavors except tobacco could be removed from the market pending review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Since then, public-health advocates and vaping-related businesses have been awaiting guidance on the new curbs. Last week, planned meetings between White House policy officials and industry groups were canceled, a development some saw as a sign that restrictions were imminent.
The White House declined to comment on Monday beyond the president’s tweet. The FDA declined to comment.
Pro-vaping groups interpreted Trump’s tweet as a sign that they may still be able to forestall tougher restrictions. The groups have continued to try to get the president’s attention, including with a demonstration over the weekend in front of the White House.
While it is unclear who will attend the meeting Trump announced, Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, said the White House is taking a step in the right direction.
“It shows that we’re making an impact and our concerns are very much being heard,” said Conley, who played a large role in organizing the rally on Saturday. “We hope we would get an invite.”
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said last week that the Department of Health and Human Services had jurisdiction over e-cigarettes, but not vape shops — a signal that those stores may escape any new restrictions.
Speaking at the White House on Wednesday, Conway drew a line between two groups of flavors: tobacco and menthol on one side; and mint, fruit and all other flavors on the other. The latter group appeals to kids and the White House must address use by minors, she said.
(Michael R. Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, has campaigned and given money in support of a ban on flavored e-cigarettes and tobacco.)