(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump is pitting public-health advocates against vaping proponents and tobacco executives in an unusual White House meeting on Friday, as he considers whether to put in place strict curbs on e-cigarette flavors.
The meeting follows the Trump administration’s wavering on an earlier proposal to clear the market of all flavored vaping products except tobacco amid worry that an alarming number of teens were taking up vaping. It comes nearly two weeks after the president first said he’d meet with stakeholders in a tweet, and follows weeks of mixed signals from the administration about its plans.
Executives from groups on both sides of the debate were expected to attend, including the Vapor Technology Association, Americans for Tax Reform, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Vaping Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and Parents Against Vaping E-cigarettes, according to people familiar with the matter.
Just what shape any final policy changes could take -- or whether any curbs will be adopted at all -- is far from certain. After the initial proposal of a broad flavor ban was floated in September, the vaping industry pushed back, arguing tough resrtrictions could cost jobs and leave adult smokers without a valuable tool to help them quit cigarettes.
Public-health groups who’d cheered the proposed ban, meanwhile, have urged the president to put it in place.
The uncertainty has led to a battle to get the president’s attention. Earlier on Friday, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network ran an advertisement on Fox News calling for restrictions on flavored vaping products minutes before Trump appeared on the cable TV network for an interview.
Greg Conley, who said that he will represent the American Vaping Association at the meeting Friday, hopes Trump will come around to his group’s view that a ban would be counterproductive.
“We are hopeful that President Trump will move toward a regulatory system that projects both adults and youth,” he said. “Prohibition does not work.”
The president will also hear from tobacco companies that have largely remained silent amid the noise around the long-awaited policy. Reynolds American Inc. will send its president and chief operating officer Joseph Fragnito, and Altria Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer Howard Willard and Juul Labs Inc. CEO K.C. Crosthwaite are attending, according to people familiar with the matter.
A representative for Juul declined to comment. Representatives for Altria and Reynolds didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Juul, maker of the most popular e-cigarette device, has taken of series of steps to try to get ahead of any restrictions and ease concerns that its products have led to a surge in teen vaping. On top of slashing its marketing, digital, broadcast and print ads, the company has stopped selling its most popular flavors among youth users, mint and mango.
Juul has previously said it would halt all lobbying on any flavor restrictions.
The administration’s stance has shifted several times since September. On Nov. 6, Conway said there’s an important distinction between adult use and the teenage epidemic, indicating that a policy could offer some reprieve for vaping shops that say the restrictions would cost both jobs and votes in 2020.
The announcement came a day after the administration abruptly canceled planned meetings with vaping-industry representatives, causing an uproar.
On Nov. 15, Mitch Zeller, the Food and Drug Administration’s top-ranking tobacco regulator, told lawmakers the agency was awaiting the White House’s final decision on the flavor restrictions. Earlier that day, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar reaffirmed Conway’s statements, saying the administration is working to strike an “appropriate public health balance” with any regulation.
Azar and Brett Giroir, the FDA’s acting commissioner, will also be at the meeting, according to a person familiar with the matter.
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