Trump set to meet with tobacco executives, vaping advocates and public health groups

By | November 22, 2019

Nick Gregory, a 26-year-old manager, vapes on a JUUL at Botany Bay in Lexington, Ky.

Charles Bertram | Tribune News Service | Getty Images

Tobacco executives, vaping industry representatives and public health leaders are scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump at the White House on Friday afternoon as the administration weighs banning flavored e-cigarettes to reverse an epidemic of teen-age use.

Juul, the market leading e-cigarette manufacturer, will send CEO K.C. Crosthwaite. Altria CEO Howard Willard and Reynolds American President and Chief Commercial Officer Joe Fragnito, executives of the two largest tobacco companies in the U.S., also plan to attend.

A number of public health leaders — including Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids President Matt Myers, American Academy of Pediatrics President-elect Sally Goza and American Lung Association President Harold Wimmer — are slated to attend. Parents Against Vaping will send someone.

Gregory Conley, president of industry-funded organization the American Vaping Association, and Tony Abboud, executive director of trade group the Vapor Technology Association, will represent e-cigarette manufacturers and vape shops. American E-Liquid Manufacturing Standards President Scott Eley also plans to attend.

Conservative group Americans for Tax Reform will send a representative.

Friday’s meeting marks a pivotal moment in what has been a heated and complex debate over how to tackle a teen vaping epidemic.

An outbreak of a vaping lung disease that has sickened nearly 2,300 people and killed 47 added even more pressure on federal regulators to act. The disease has been linked to vaping THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, but has still heightened scrutiny on the e-cigarette industry.

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The meeting comes more than two months after Trump said his administration would ban flavored e-cigarettes and days after it was reported that Trump refused to sign off on that plan.

Vaping supporters and conservative groups have pressured Trump to abandon the effort. They have argued that banning flavors would send people back to cigarettes, would force thousands of vape shops to close and would turn voters against Trump.

Meantime, public health groups say flavors attract kids to e-cigarettes. Federal data shows more than 5 million U.S. middle school and high school students say they vape, escalating what health officials declared an epidemic last year.

The White House pushed back against reporting that it abandoned the flavor ban. Spokesman Judd Deere in a statement earlier this week said “the policy making process is not stalled” and pitched Friday’s meeting as a step forward.

“This meeting will allow the President and other administration officials an opportunity to hear from a large group, representing all sides as we continue to develop responsible guidelines that protect the public health and the American people,” Deere said.

Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner and CNBC contributor Scott Gottlieb said Trump was “spooked” by the political backlash of banning flavors. However, Gottlieb thinks “something’s going to get done here,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Friday.

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