The Trump administration is examining whether to ban flavoured e-cigarettes, after more than 400 patients have been diagnosed with a mysterious illness linked to vaping and six have died.
Alex Azar, the US health secretary, said the US Food and Drug Administration is looking at whether to require e-cigarette makers to remove all flavours other than tobacco from the market. Speaking after a White House meeting with Donald Trump and Ned Sharpless, the acting FDA commissioner, he said it will take action if companies are marketing flavoured e-cigarettes to children.
Mr Trump said the US has a problem with vaping and must do something about it. He said companies that sell e-cigarettes had become “very rich” very fast.
His comments come after Melania Trump tweeted earlier this week that she is “deeply concerned” about the “growing epidemic” of e-cigarette use among children. Mr Trump said: “She’s got a son . . . she feels very strongly about it.”
Wall Street reacted with some concern to the latest sign of a vaping crackdown. It comes less than a week after health officials at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned consumers to avoid using e-cigarettes.
Shares in Altria, which owns a 35 per cent stake in ecigarette maker Juul and sells Marlboro cigarettes in the US, had been trading as much as 1.7 per cent higher earlier in the day but after the announcement they lost all the gains to trade little changed.
Altria shares have dropped 11 per cent so far this year. With consumers rejecting traditional cigarettes at an accelerating rate, the emerging health concerns over vaping have dented investor confidence that such companies can transition into new businesses.
The White House’s move threatens to further complicate Altria’s planned tie-up with Philip Morris International in a $200bn mega-deal. Analysts have already expressed scepticism about the merits of the combination, noting it would bring PMI into the US market at a time of heightened uncertainty over regulation of, and consumer demand for, alternative products.
The FDA did not respond to a request for comment. The regulator has been warning vapers to avoid e-cigarettes that contain THC, the main psychoactive component in marijuana.
Such e-cigarettes have been linked to the mysterious illness. Some officials think the THC could be diluted with vitamin E oil, which is safe to absorb orally, but could damage the lungs when inhaled.
Scientists are still investigating the cause of the lung problems, and the American Medical Association and the American Lung Association have advised the public to not use e-cigarettes at all.
US regulators have already introduced a series of restrictions on the devices. While health officials see merit in converting existing cigarette smokers to lower-risk alternatives, they have been alarmed by a surge in popularity among young people and are concerned a new generation is at risk of getting hooked on nicotine. Earlier initiatives included restricting the availability of flavoured e-cigarettes to people under 21.