Maine’s congressional delegation on Tuesday criticized the Trump administration’s decision to back away from a plan to ban flavored vaping products.

“I am perplexed and troubled by the administration’s apparent change in direction in banning flavors in e-cigarettes,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in an interview.

Collins, Sen. Angus King, an independent, and Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and Jared Golden, D-2nd District, all urged the Trump administration to reconsider.

“I think lobbyists and special interests got to the president and changed his mind about taking on the vaping industry,” Golden said in a written statement. “That’s unfortunate, because teen nicotine addiction is on the rise again due to vaping products that target youth, like mint- and cherry-flavored products. The president had already committed to restricting these flavors, and moving forward should have been an easy move on a common sense policy.”

The Trump administration had been planning a rollout of the flavored products ban in November, before it was abruptly canceled this week. National news reports said President Trump abandoned the ban after being lobbied by industry groups and weighing the possibility that a ban could cost him votes in the 2020 election.

Federal health officials have sounded the alarm for months on the dangers of vaping, and 2,172 people across the United States have suffered lung injuries caused by vaping, including six in Maine. Forty-two have died nationwide, none in Maine.

Collins urged the Trump administration to return to its earlier plan to ban flavored vaping products, which come in tastes like mint, cinnamon, strawberry and blueberry. Even though it’s illegal for minors to purchase e-cigarettes – in Maine the minimum age is 21 – public health experts have condemned the sale of flavored products because of their appeal to children. Vaping has skyrocketed among teens, with about 25 percent of high school students reporting they have vaped, according to federal surveys.

“If the administration fails to act and reverse direction, I am going to push for the Senate to take up legislation,” Collins said. Collins is a co-sponsor of a bill sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, that would ban flavored products.

Pingree said she is “very disappointed” in the president’s reversal on vaping, because it “seemed like we were making some progress.”

“I have visited with middle school and high school teachers and administrators. They are horrified at the ease of which students can bring these products into school,” Pingree in an interview. “There are so many kids smoking e-cigarettes who never actually would have smoked.”

King said that it’s “clear that flavored e-cigarettes are targeting young Americans.”

“Earlier this year, it seemed that the (Trump) administration recognized the importance of addressing this trend to protect public health, but the latest delays – which appear to be rooted in political calculations rather than scientific data – are deeply concerning. For the president to abandon this promise would be flat-out wrong. I hope he reconsiders and puts our children’s health first,” King said in a statement.

Collins said research she has seen shows that millions of teens have taken up vaping, which could be a gateway to smoking. Meanwhile, the FDA has not approved of vaping as an effective tobacco-cessation product.

There are conflicting studies on whether vaping is a gateway to smoking for teens, but the study that was most critical of the connection – published this month in the scholarly journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research – also said that teens who vaped were more likely to try smoking conventional cigarettes.

Collins said that beyond the flavor ban, she would be in favor of stronger regulations, including possibly making e-cigarettes only available behind the drug counter, similar to Sudafed.

“That is potentially a very good reform,” Collins said. “If I need Sudafed, it’s behind the pharmacy counter and I have to sign for it.”

Sudafed, a popular decongestant, contains an active ingredient for making illegal methamphetamine, so the FDA restricted its sale. Adults must vouch that they are purchasing it for personal use.

Former FDA Commissioner David Kessler has proposed the “Sudafed solution” for vaping products.

Pingree said she would support a ban on all e-cigarette sales until it can be proven whether the products are safe.

“There’s so little we know about it. We don’t know the long-term impact of vaping,” Pingree said. “I’d be in favor taking them off the market until FDA does serious study on that.”

A Maine lawmaker, state Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, is proposing a statewide ban on the sale of vaping products until the FDA can determine whether they are safe. Millett’s bill will go before the Legislature in January.

“The science on vaping is evolving,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Our lungs are made for oxygen, and vaping or regular cigarettes disturbs that.”

Research into vaping products is ongoing. Most of the lung injuries – more than 80 percent – involved illegal vaping products that contained THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. And all of the products in the study that caused lung injury contained vitamin E acetate, an additive used in some vaping products. The CDC said it is possible that other toxins could also play a role.

 

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