One day after declaring that companies "must stop" marketing e-cigarettes to children, First Lady Melania Trump will speak directly with teens and young adults about their experiences with electronic cigarettes and vaping.
The White House says she has invited a group from the Truth Initiative to take part in a "listening session" Wednesday, which will also include Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway.
The Truth Initiative claims it's the largest nonprofit public health organization dedicated to achieving a culture where all youth and young adults reject tobacco.
Trump visited the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) headquarters on Monday morning and she delivered a speech at the agency’s Red Ribbon rally, in which she said that e-cigarettes are addictive and dangerous. The rally was an effort to drive messaging around Red Ribbon Week, a nation-wide campaign that encourages students to pledge to live drug free that starts on Oct. 23.
“We need to continue encouraging teenagers and young adults that have fallen into drug addiction to be brave enough to admit it, to talk about it, and to get help,” said Trump. “This also includes addiction associated with e-cigarettes and vaping. It is important to me that we all work to educate children and families about the dangers associated with this habit. Marketing this addictive product to children must stop.”
The marketing of tobacco products to children is already prohibited in the United States, and Juul Labs - the nation's largest maker of electronic cigarettes - has said it will cease advertising them in the U.S. However, some still blame Juul's early online marketing of e-cigarettes for contributing to an increase in vaping among youth.
Federal statistics show vaping among teens had increased significantly between 2017 and 2018. More than one in four high school students reported vaping in the past month, up from 1 in 5 students in 2018, according to the latest statistics. E-cigarette use among middle school students also increased.
Federal health officials have called the trend an "epidemic," and fear teenagers who vape will eventually start smoking.
The first lady promotes an anti-drug message through the "Be Best" youth initiative she launched in May 2018. She said her visits to hospitals and rehabilitation centers have allowed her to see "the horrible results of drug abuse." She also pledged to "continue to address addiction as long as it affects our children, our youth and our schools."
The First Lady held a town hall with students from Liberty University last November that "addressed the stigma surrounding drug dependence and addressed the issue again in March in Las Vegas. I will continue to address addiction as long as it affects our children, our youth, and our schools."
President Donald Trump and the first lady have a 13-year-old son, Barron, and last month, she tweeted that she’s "deeply concerned about the growing epidemic of e-cigarette use in our children.”
On September 11, two days after the first lady’s tweet, the president announced from the Oval Office that U.S. health authorities will act to ban thousands of flavors used in e-cigarettes.
"We can’t allow people to get sick and we can’t have our youth be so affected," the president said.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said it was grateful for the first lady's message and called on the administration to implement its plan and quickly remove all flavored e-cigarettes from the market.
"Flavors have been a key part of the industry's strategy for marketing to kids and have fueled this epidemic," said Vince Willmore, a spokesman for the advocacy group.
Juul has pledged not to lobby against the Trump administration's planned flavor ban. Other industry representatives, including the American Vaping Association - which represents makers and retailers of e-cigarettes and vaping solutions - oppose the planned policy.
Opponents argue the policy could create a "black market" for vaping products and push adults who vape to resume smoking.