Vaping Foes See Powerful Symbol in U.S. House Vote on Flavor Ban

Supporters of a ban on flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products say they’re gaining ground in Congress with a symbolic victory aimed at curbing use by young people.

The House passed a bill (H.R. 2339) Friday to curb youth use of e-cigarettes by banning some popular flavored tobacco and vaping products, including mint and menthol. Public health groups pushing for the flavor ban say that vote is momentous, even though the measure has little chance of getting traction in the Senate.

The House vote was 213-195.

“This is the most-significant piece of tobacco legislation to reach the floor of the House in over a decade,” Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said.

Jovelle Tamayo/Bloomberg
Bottles of vape juice for e-cigarettes sit in a bin during a final sale at a vape store closing in Seattle on Sept. 30, 2019.

The measure would impose a tax on e-cigarettes that supporters say is similar to the current levy on traditional cigarettes and bar companies from selling e-cigarette or tobacco products with popular flavors such as mint and menthol. It would also require tobacco advertisements to include graphic warnings.

Lawmakers have sought to curb youth use of e-cigarettes as more young people report regularly vaping. One study found that by 2019 more than a quarter of high school students were vaping.

A flavor ban is popular among the public: a poll sponsored by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids found that 73% of likely voters supported a ban on flavored vaping products that many say are popular among teens.

The House bill gained steam after the Trump administration put forward its own ban on certain flavored vaping products. Democrats widely panned the move as insufficient and moved forward with their own, broader flavor ban.

Senate Shows Interest, Action Unlikely

Senate Democrats say they’re seeing more of their colleagues show interest in taking up vaping and tobacco legislation in their chamber, although they don’t expect to see a bill come to the Senate floor soon.

“There’s growing interest,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who sponsored a vaping tax bill similar to the one that passed as part of the House legislation, said in an interview.

Republicans have largely united against banning flavored tobacco and vaping products, arguing it could spur more black market vaping products. Many conservative leaders have said they want to let the Food and Drug Administration handle youth vaping.

“Current tobacco users will be pushed underground to illicit markets to fill the void if they can suddenly not purchase their products of choice through legal channels,” Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) told reporters.

Some CBC Members Opposed

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, too, opposed banning menthol cigarettes over concerns it could lead to over-policing. Black teenagers who smoke tend to prefer menthol cigarettes, a trend the CDC attributes to aggressive marketing by tobacco companies.

Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) said this week she opposed the measure because it would unfairly target products popular among black teens, menthol cigarettes, while carving out an exception for premium cigars, popular among white smokers.

“Over-policing is a real issue for me we need to look at,” she said in an interview.

However, supporters of banning menthol cigarettes point out they’ve made strides in persuading black lawmakers to join their fight.

In the week leading up to the vote, Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) signed on as cosponsors of the bill, joining more than two dozen other members of the Congressional Black Caucus in support of it.

Michael Bloomberg, the majority owner of Bloomberg Government’s parent company, has campaigned and given money in support of a ban on flavored e-cigarettes and tobacco.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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