AILSA CHANG, HOST:
President Trump revisited the idea today of limiting youth access to e-cigarettes. He said his administration may move to raise the legal age to buy vaping products from 18 to 21. Trump's comments came during a White House meeting on vaping that included representatives from the industry as well as public health advocates who want a ban on flavored e-cigarettes. NPR's Allison Aubrey joins us now to talk about that meeting.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Hi, there.
CHANG: So what was the president's main message today?
AUBREY: Well, the message was really framed as a listening session, an opportunity for the president to hear from all sides in what's become a very contentious issue. Back in September, the president said he supported a ban on flavored e-cigarettes because it's the flavors, such as mint, that are known to attract teens to vaping.
AUBREY: But then came out reports that the administration has backed off. Now today, the president did express skepticism about whether a ban could work. He said, we learned during prohibition that bans can lead to illegal sales or a black market. But he also indicated that the policy process has not stalled out. He started the meeting by saying, we want to take care of our kids. So perhaps the most clear indication of what this might be is his comment that his administration may raise the legal age to buy e-cigarettes to 21.
CHANG: OK, but this has gotten really contentious, right? There are advocacy groups and health experts calling for a ban. And I understand that on the other side, there are a lot of conservative groups...
AUBREY: That's right.
CHANG: ...Who oppose a ban. What is their argument?
AUBREY: That's right. Well - right. It's not just the companies that make the vapes or sell the vapes. This coalition of conservative groups has come out strongly. A representative from Americans for Tax - Americans for Tax Reform, which is led by Grover Norquist, was at the meeting today. This group has called for the president to preserve access to e-cigarettes. They argue that adult smokers use e-cigarettes to help quit traditional cigarettes. They're joined by a pretty long list of other conservative groups - the American Conservative Union, the Competitive Enterprise Institute. And they say vaping is a form of harm reduction, that it's less harmful than cigarettes, which sounds like a reasonable argument if you are a two-pack-a-day cigarette smoker...
AUBREY: ...Trying to quit.
CHANG: But the argument is a health argument.
AUBREY: That's right. They're using a health argument here. I don't know what the tax argument is. But, you know, people who vape have turned out at rallies with signs that say, we vape, we vote.
AUBREY: So this is really a political issue.
CHANG: Yeah. All right, OK, so that's one side of the debate. What about the people calling for a ban? What's their take?
AUBREY: Sure. Well, the other side of the argument comes from groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Lung Association, you know, public health groups. Their main argument is look what is happening with teenagers right now. There's this big increase in the number of high school kids who vape. Many teens also vape illicit or grey-market THC products, which are linked to the outbreak of these severe lung illnesses. And they point to just how addictive and how harmful nicotine can be to the teenage brain, creating potential memory and focus problems. It can also make kids more vulnerable to other types of substance abuse. So they really argue this is another generation of kids getting hooked on nicotine by vaping. And during the meeting today, the president elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics came out, and she told the president she'd like to see him move forward with the ban.
CHANG: So do you have any sense of where this is going to be heading? I mean, do you think flavored e-cigarettes will ultimately be banned?
AUBREY: Well, you know, I think it's very much up in the air. Trump even suggested today that states should come up with their own plans. I mean, some states, including Michigan, Massachusetts and New York, have already moved in that direction. So we'll see.
CHANG: That's NPR's Allison Aubrey.
AUBREY: Thank you.
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