By Gabriella Borter and Matthew Lavietes
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Yorkers who vape do not seem to mind if President Donald Trump pushes through a proposed ban on flavoured e-cigarettes, admitting that widespread youth addiction needed to be controlled and expressing hope that it might help them quit.
The plan, announced on Wednesday by Trump, first lady Melania Trump and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, would remove all flavoured e-cigarettes from store shelves. Only tobacco-flavored products would be available.
The aim is to discourage vaping, especially by minors, after a handful of deaths and hundreds of lung illnesses have been linked to the practice. A majority of young vapers use only the flavoured variety.
"He would be doing me a favour," said Antoinette Quiles, a 31-year-old carpenter, as she inhaled from her Juul outside a New York subway stop. "Hopefully, if it’s not available, I won’t buy it. I’ve tried to stop and put it away, but it’s available."
In interviews with a dozen New Yorkers who said they regularly vaped, no one expressed dismay that the government might crack down on the widely preferred flavoured pods.
Lawmakers, public-health advocates and parents have urged the federal government to step in to restrict e-cigarettes, introduced more than a decade ago as an alternative for cigarette-addicted adults. But vaping has exploded in popularity among young people.
The proposal followed recent flavour bans by state and local governments. Earlier this week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed to ban flavours of e-cigarettes throughout the state, following Michigan, which imposed a ban last week. San Francisco took the ban one step further, banning the sale of all e-cigarettes.
Preliminary data show more than a quarter of U.S. high school students used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, an increase of 20.8% from last year, the Health and Human Services Department said.
"It’s fine if they think that’s going to be a deterrent for young kids that aren’t of age to buy them," said Nick Agosti, a 31-year-old assistant community school director, adding he would miss the flavours. "It's something that needs to be addressed."
'IT'S E-CIGARETTES THEMSELVES'
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in March formally proposed guidelines that would prohibit the sale of flavoured e-cigarette products, except mint and menthol, in traditional retail outlets. Under that proposal, which had not been finalised, e-cigarette makers could still sell flavoured products online and in age-restricted stores, such as vape shops.
Wednesday's proposal went further, banning the sale of all flavoured e-cigarette products across all retail channels, aside from tobacco-flavored products. It would include mint and menthol flavouring as well as bubblegum, candy, fruit, alcohol and other flavours.
Some self-described vape addicts said the flavour ban would still be insufficient to crack down on the epidemic.
"I don't think it's the flavours that are the reason why people are dying, it's the e-cigarettes themselves," said Bush George, a 44-year-old stylist who said he vapes in addition to smoking cigarettes.
“If they’re still online, then I’ll find a way to purchase it. There’s ways to do a lot of things, get your hands on anything if you know how to do it correctly,” said Stephen Figueroa, 25, as he took a hit from his vape against his better judgment.
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter and Matthew Lavietes; Editing by Peter Cooney)