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Why are so many kids addicted to vaping — and what will Trump do about it?

With thousands sickened and 47 dead from a mysterious lung illness linked to vaping, teenage use of electronic cigarettes is still surging. As the health risks grow, pressure is building on President Trump to take action, with particular focus on limiting the flavored tobacco products that appeal to kids. William Brangham reports and talks to Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There is growing pressure on President Trump to take real action on vaping, e-cigarettes and especially use among young people.

    But there's also a big debate about what should or should not be done. That played out in real time at the White House in front of the president today.

    As William Brangham reports, this comes as more individuals have been sickened by vaping-associated — vaping — I should say vaping-associated injuries. Nearly 2,300 people have lung injuries. And vaping has been associated with at least 47 deaths.

  • William Brangham:

    Today's White House meeting reflected the wider national debate around vaping, whether the federal government should ban flavored e-cigarettes or set age limits.

  • Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah:

    We have got nearly six million kids addicted to nicotine. And they're getting addicted to nicotine because of flavors.

  • William Brangham:

    For his part, the president didn't commit to a specific ban or plan. But, at times, he seemed open to the argument that any kind of ban on flavored cartridges wouldn't be effective.

  • President Donald Trump:

    You watch prohibition. You look at — you know, with the alcohol, you look at cigarettes, you look at all, if you don't give it to them, it's going to come here illegally, OK? They're going to make it.

    But instead of Reynolds or Juul or legitimate companies, good companies making something that is safe, they're going to be selling stuff on a street corner that could be horrible.

  • William Brangham:

    The president first pledged federal action back in September, when people started getting ill from vaping.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We can't allow people to get sick. And we can't have our youth be so affected.

  • William Brangham:

    But since then, no significant action has been taken.

    Several published reports said pressures from lobbyists, vaping supporters and political advisers stopped the president from issuing any bans. Many parents and public health officials worry that too many young people are still vaping. A recent survey found more than five million kids used e-cigarettes during a single month earlier this year, including more than one out of four high schoolers and 11 percent of middle school students.

    Too many young adults have ended up in the hospital, including a 16-year-old male who received a double lung transplant in Detroit last week.

  • Dr. Nicholas Yeldo:

    This young patient would have died. There is no doubt about it.

  • William Brangham:

    Researchers are still trying to understand the causes behind those illnesses.

    The injuries are believed to be largely caused by non-commercial black market vaping products laced with chemical agents like THC or vitamin E acetate. Those appear to be causing lung injuries similar to chemical burns.

    And many states are taking their own steps as well. California and New York have filed lawsuits against the biggest e-cigarette manufacturer, Juul Labs. And several others are passing their own bans of flavored e-cigarettes.

    Matthew Myers is the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. And he was in today's White House meeting.

    Welcome back to the "NewsHour."

  • Matthew Myers:

    Thanks for having me.

  • William Brangham:

    Help me understand. What did you make of the debate that happened in the White House? You sat there right opposite the president. Do you think, after seeing this conversation unfold, that we are any closer to where you would like us to be?

  • Matthew Myers:

    Well, my hope is that we are.

    One of the things I thought was remarkable today was that all of the major physician groups in the United States, as well as public health groups, were in the room, and every one of them said the same thing. If we're going to reverse the youth e-cigarette epidemic, we have to get rid of the flavors that have fueled it.

  • William Brangham:

    And that really, to you, is issue number one, hands down?

  • Matthew Myers:

    Anything else we do won't work, unless we get rid of the flavors.

    What we have seen is that 97 percent of all kids who use e-cigarettes use a flavored product. Seventy percent of them say they use the product precisely because of the flavors.

    If you have something out there that kids will want to get, they will find a way to do it.

  • William Brangham:

    What do you make of the president's argument? He brought up something that many people bring up, that if you ban flavored cartridges, the kids love those flavors, they want the sweet, they want the colorful, that they will get them on the black market.

    And then you have lost the ability to really regulate and know what they're purchasing.

  • Matthew Myers:

    Well, I think there's a couple of responses to it.

    First of all, the presence of the flavors is what has led a million-and-a-half new kids to become addicted each year. If we do nothing else but stop that on-ramp, we will do something very important.

  • William Brangham:

    Is the evidence crystal clear that it's the flavors that are getting kids?

  • Matthew Myers:

    It is absolutely crystal clear that it is the flavors that attract kids.

    And then it's the high level of addict — of nicotine in them that are addicting the kids. It's the one-two punch. If we get rid of the flavors, though, kids will not try these products.

    The second thing that I think is very important to understand is that the tobacco industry always argues every time we want to do anything that counterfeit cigarettes, counterfeit products will undermine — the public health and the government response is not to not pass good laws. It's to enforce the laws effectively.

    I have no doubt that, if we eliminate flavors, we will see millions fewer kids become addicted, and we will see many of the kids who are currently addicted try to quit.

  • William Brangham:

    Help me understand where kids today are getting these. What are they smoking? Where are they getting them? How is that happening?

  • Matthew Myers:

    There are a lot of myths out there.

    A good number of kids do get them through social sources, older kids who buy them for them. But what we also found is that a majority — a large percentage of kids will use Juul, the number one brand, get them from vape shops.

  • William Brangham:

    And these are stores that are dedicated to selling nothing but e-cigarette products.

  • Matthew Myers:

    That's exactly right. That's exactly right.

    There's an image out there that kids aren't allowed in those stores. They are. And they have a track record of selling to kids that's, frankly, worse than other stores.

    So, if we're going to solve this problem, what we have to do is make sure that the rules apply to all stores.

  • William Brangham:

    The president back in September came out and said — this was in response to those illnesses, which, I get it, that federal authorities are still trying to figure out what's driving those illnesses.

    But the president said, let's ban these flavored vape products. He said a lot of things that you wanted him to say. But yet here we are several months later. We haven't seen that action.

    Why do you think — what's the hiccup?

  • Matthew Myers:

    Well, unfortunately, the e-cigarette industry, which has done everything they can to avoid responsible regulation, have vigorously opposed his proposal as well.

    They have claimed that he will lose votes on it. They have claimed that it will impact adult tobacco users. The facts don't support that; 77 percent of all Americans, including conservative Republicans, support banning flavors in order to reduce the number of kids in our country who become addicted.

    The other critical fact is, the meteoric rise in youth use as a result of the flavors has not been accompanied by an increase in adult use. Today, there are fewer adults using e-cigarettes than there were four years ago. If we get rid of the flavors, we're going to stop the on-ramp of kids, and we can begin to address what we really need to do, and that is how to help adult smokers quit.

  • William Brangham:

    Because that is the argument that the industry and many supporters of vaping argue, which is, this is a product, principally, that is supposed to help people who are smoking tobacco cigarettes get off of that.

  • Matthew Myers:

    Unfortunately, the rhetoric doesn't match the facts.

    The entire growth in the market over the last four years is kids, 100 percent increase. We have seen high school use double in the last two years, middle school use triple in the last two years. We have a million kids who are using these products addicted on a daily use.

    It is really a crisis. And unless we stop that number from growing, we're going to pay for this for decades to come.

  • William Brangham:

    Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, thank you very much.

  • Matthew Myers:

    Thanks for having me.

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