The much anticipated White House meeting between pro-vaping advocates such as Greg Conley (@GregTHR) from the American Vaping Associate, reps from Big Tobacco (Juul/Altria/RJ Reynolds/NJoy) and anti-vaping advocates, has been described by members of the press that were there as "wild".
President Trump went around the round table to hear the various proposals from the various people in the room. Most of which seemed to be ban all flavors, except tobacco from the various groups.
Throughout the meeting President Trump seem quite aware of the implications of a flavor ban, including the creation of an unsafe black market as well as the economic ramifications, the real cause of the lung injuries being from illicit THC carts and the overall positions of the various parties at the table.
This was a wild, watching-the-sausage-being-made event with squabbling between health advocates arguing for banning flavored vapes and vaping industry reps saying jobs would be lost.
Senator Mitt Romney (R) from Utah was a surprise to many room to have been invited to the meeting. Senator Romney was also given a very prominent placement at the table, seated in the right hand seat closest to President Trump with Secretary Azar from Health and Human Services on the left.
When President Trump raised concerns about the ramifications of a flavor ban, Mitt Romney was quick to interject. President Trump talked about the products moving the black market and Senator Romney said that only the young people used flavors, which was pointed out as not true almost immediately.
Senator Romney said the loss of 40,000 jobs, his estimate of vape shop employees, said "would be unfortunate" but were mainly "minimum wage".
One of the big draw backs of this event was whenever a vape advocate, such as Greg Conley or Tony Abboud, started making a strong statement, they would be immediately interrupted. Flavor ban advocates were not treated in such a manner.
On the flavor ban, the "Mother" advocated, said "The flavors have hooked the kids. Take the flavors but leave tobacco flavor for adults. ... We're not prohibitionists. Leave tobacco flavor for adults."
She continued to say that the science isn't there to show that e-cigarettes help people switch from smoking, which prompted Secretary Azar in regards to e-cigarettes being harm reduction devices, "There has been no evidence presented to the FDA to that fact. Any manufacturer who makes that claim will be enforced against. You may think there is that evidence but the process the Tobacco Control Act requires is bringing forth that evidence in context of that process ..." [referring to the PMTA product approval process].
According to the pool report, Trump raised concerns that a flavor ban could lead to a rise in black market products with fewer safety restrictions. Romney chimed in that only younger vaping customers used flavored products, which the executives contradicted.
Greg Conley, President of the American Vaping Association and tobacco harm reduction advocate, was given a pretty poor seating assignment out of the line of sight from the President. Tony Abboud from Vapor Technology Association was given better seating, directly across from the President.
Major Points Made
President Trump, indicated he was aware of counterfeit THC carts injuring people and that a flavor ban will lead to that vape juice flavor products will being filled by the black market. Trump saying a flavor ban "will create a dangerous black market."
All of the "kids" groups and "health advocates" were for banning all flavored vape products, except for tobacco, including menthol. Trump regarding banning menthol as "a big statement" as well as prefacing lots of peoples statements with the idea that their solution would be to "ban it all together"
Greg Conley was able to point out the money, $160 million, given to the various groups by billionaire Michael Bloomberg to ban vaping.
Surprisingly, a representative from NJOY made a very strong statement for flavors stating that a flavor ban would solidify the position of 4 big companies (JUUL, Altria, NJoy, Imperial Tobacco) as the only players in the market and kill the rest of the industry. He also said he preferred vaping over smoking just from a health standpoint.
Njoy, Reynolds, and of course VTA and AVA all defended flavors. Juul did not and is fine with the flavor ban other than tobacco and menthol. Let that sink in.
The JUUL representative seemed to do a pretty terrible job as usual, indicating they were going to rely of science to ensure their approval in the PMTA (FDA product approval process).
Various economic points on the business impact of a flavor ban that the President was able to hear:
- 85%-90% of sales comprise of flavored vape products
- flavor ban will cause vape shops to go out of business
- small percentage of vape store sales
- 13,000 small businesses would close from a flavor ban
- 100,000 lost jobs
At the end of the meeting, Secretary Azar began questioning what percentage of sales were closed systems (single use cartridges) at vape shops versus open tank (refillable tank systems like subohm tanks). When he got the information that open tank and juice sales were the primary product sold at vape shops, he nodded vigorously in Trump's direction.
One of Secretary Azar's follow up questions was:
Would your vape shop go out of business based on cartridge flavor products?
[Seeming to mean, would banning pods or flavors in the pods besides tobacco force your shop out of business.] To which the reply was a small percentage of sales at vape shops are closed systems, such as pods.
Cartridge based or closed systems like vape pod devices such as those offered by JUUL or Vuse, seem to be the biggest target here.
What is most definitely going to happen is an age increase to 21 for products including nicotine.
At the very end President Trump said, "We will announce soon. We want to take care of our kids. We have to take care of our kids."
What seems to be a likely outcome from indications from President Trump and Secretary Azar:
- sales will limited to 21 and up (guaranteed this will happen)
- closed pod systems such as those made by JUUL and others will have their flavor pods limited to tobacco flavor only (more likely). This position is similar to what former FDA Commisioner Scott Gottlieb has proposed but Gottlieb has also advocated for banning closed pods systems such as JUUL (a remote possibility at this point).
- open tank systems (refillable vape kits and tanks) and flavored juices (Azar referred to these as "mixes") are in a safer position today than yesterday