Trump Supports Raising E-Cigarette Purchase Age to 21

President Trump spoke to reporters before departing the White House for Atlanta on Friday. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Trump is supporting a move to raise the minimum purchase age for e-cigarettes nationwide to 21 from 18 in an effort aimed at curbing teenage vaping.

His administration this week had been expected to release details on a plan to remove from the U.S. market the sweet and fruity e-cigarette flavors that are popular with young people, but the announcement was delayed amid pushback from conservative groups. Those details will be released next week, Mr. Trump said Friday.

“We’re going to be coming out with a very important position on vaping,” Mr. Trump told reporters outside the White House Friday. “We have to take care of our kids, most importantly. So we’re going to have an age limit of 21 or so….We have a lot of people to look at, including jobs, frankly, because it’s become a pretty big industry. But we’re going to take care of that.”

The White House is still working out the details of a policy to pursue legislation raising the minimum purchase age for e-cigarettes, according to a person familiar with the matter. It could include traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products, the person said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier this year introduced legislation that would raise the minimum age to purchase all tobacco products to 21, a move that public-health advocates and tobacco companies hope would curb the use of e-cigarettes among teens. Similar bills have been introduced in the House. More than a dozen states have passed or enacted laws raising the minimum age to 21 for all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.

The White House hasn’t taken a public position on Mr. McConnell’s bill. A spokesman for the senator didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Altria Group Inc. and Reynolds American Inc., the two biggest U.S. cigarette manufacturers, both support an increase of the minimum age to 21, as does Juul Labs Inc., the e-cigarette market leader that has been blamed by health officials for a surge in underage vaping.

Juul Thursday said it was voluntarily stopping U.S. sales of its mint refill pods, citing new government data showing the flavor’s popularity among teenagers. Since Juul stopped selling its sweet and fruity flavors in U.S. retail stores last year, mint has become its highest-selling refill pod, representing about 70% of the company’s U.S. sales.

The Trump administration in September said it planned to take off the market any e-cigarettes that weren’t formulated to taste like tobacco. Some conservative interest groups fought the ban, arguing it was better to focus on preventing just minors from gaining access to the products.

They sought to raise a political point with Mr. Trump, too, saying vaping is popular in key states he needs to win re-election. Some public-health experts said menthol e-cigarettes should remain on the market as an alternative to traditional menthol cigarettes.

The administration has since revised its plan and is considering allowing menthol e-cigarettes to remain on store shelves, according to a White House official.

The most common way children and teens obtain e-cigarettes is from someone they know, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Those in favor of raising the purchase age say it would ensure that high-school students wouldn’t have classmates who could purchase e-cigarettes for them.

U.S. adult smoking rates have been falling for years. About 5% of tobacco consumers are between 18 and 20 years old, analysts say.

Vaping related illnesses are on the rise, and it appears to be related to a black market of THC vapes. WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez sat down with doctors and experts to understand what’s happening with the outbreak.

Write to Jennifer Maloney at jennifer.maloney@wsj.com and Alex Leary at alex.leary@wsj.com

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