AUGUSTA, Maine — Efforts to ban flavored e-cigarettes and reduce their appeal to youngsters have sputtered under industry pressure in over a half-dozen states this year even as one state, Michigan, moves ahead with its own restrictions and President Donald Trump promises federal ones.
In many cases, the fight by the industry and its lobbyists has focused on leaving the most popular flavors — mint and its close cousin, menthol — alone. But public health experts say that all flavors should be banned, and that menthol can still hook kids on vaping.
The proposal Trump outlined on Wednesday, which would supersede any state inaction, includes a ban on mint and menthol, and an industry giant quickly indicated it would capitulate.
“We strongly agree with the need for aggressive category-wide action on flavored products,” read a statement released by Juul Labs Inc.
But the fight in state legislatures has been fierce. Lobbyists for the vaping and tobacco industry fought bans on flavors in Hawaii, California, New Mexico, Massachusetts, New York, Maine and Connecticut.
Such bans failed or stalled, even as Michigan’s governor this month ordered emergency rules prohibiting flavored e-cigarettes. New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed a desire Monday to ban flavored e-cigarettes.
Trump’s federal proposal, as it stands, would require no congressional approval, meaning lobbying efforts to defeat it could be less effective than in state legislatures. Juul spent $1.9 million in the first half of the year to try and sway the White House, Congress and the Food and Drug Administration.
The Vapor Technology Association has reported spending $78,000 this year in its lobbying fight against California’s proposed flavored e-cigarettes ban, while one of the world’s largest tobacco producers, Altria, reported spending over $100,000 last fall solely to lobby such legislation. The bills have since stalled.
Reynolds American, which sells Vuse Alto e-cigarettes, reported spending $240,000 on paid lobbyists in New York this year. At least $23,000 alone went to fund their lobbying push against a flavored tobacco ban that failed to pass this year.
Altria — which is also Juul’s biggest investor— also spent over $70,000 in Maine alone this spring on an online social media and email campaign in its efforts to defeat a ban on flavored e-cigarettes and all tobacco products, according to lobbying reports filed with state ethics officials. Maine still has no flavor ban.
The global e-cigarette and vape market was valued at as much as $11 billion in 2018. The rise in teen vaping has been driven mainly by flavored cartridge-based products such as Juul, which controls roughly three-quarters of the U.S. e-cigarettes market.