Policy must be aimed, first and foremost, at preventing a generation of teenagers from getting hooked on nicotine. A secondary goal is ensuring that smokers trying to quit have access to well-regulated vaping products that are likely safer than traditional cigarettes when used long-term. Vaping industry jobs are no priority when the health of two large groups of Americans is on the line. But this impulsive president might suddenly buy the pitch from a loud alliance of hard-right conservatives and e-cigarette groups arguing that vaping policy should be written in deference to their interests rather than the general public’s health.
The crackdown he announced two months ago had been the right idea. Mr. Trump pledged to ban flavored vaping liquids, which hold particular appeal to teenagers. Only tobacco-flavored vaping fluids would be legal, allowing former smokers access to nicotine-laced liquids in a flavor to which they are accustomed while repelling young nonsmokers. Companies that wished to sell e-cigarette pods in different flavors, such as mint or menthol, would have to persuade the Food and Drug Administration that allowing their sale would benefit public health on net, which would no doubt require solid plans to ensure they would be marketed and sold only to adults seeking a healthier alternative to smoking. The president’s initial instinct to set a cautious policy, allowing for exceptions only after careful study, was the right one.
The federal health data that spurred Mr. Trump two months ago indicated that more than a quarter of high schoolers reported having used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days — and they mostly chose fruit or mint flavors — up from 21 percent last year. Those numbers, rather than the number of adult smokers who will not use the patch or gum to quit, or the number of jobs in the vaping business, should be the overriding factors shaping the vaping debate.