But that effort stalled after vaping proponents and lobbyists pushed back and White House advisers told Trump that a total flavor ban could cost him votes.
On Thursday, some lawmakers said the FDA's new enforcement priorities for mint and other flavors didn't go far enough.
The Trump administration announced Thursday that it will prohibit fruit, candy, mint and dessert flavors from small, cartridge-based e-cigarettes that are popular with high school students.
The new policy will also leave Juul, the leading e-cigarette among teens, largely untouched.
Azar said prioritizing flavors most widely used by children would ensure e-cigarettes were a potential "off-ramp" for adult smokers but not an "on-ramp" to nicotine addiction for youngsters. Juul and Altria, the tobacco giant that bought a 35% stake in Juul a year ago, said they did not oppose the federal regulation of flavors.
Although most agree that underage use of e-cigarettes is something to crack down on, flavored e-liquids and other similar ENDS products are nonetheless popular among adults, too. But menthol and tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes will be allowed to remain on the market. Late last month Trump signed a law raising the minimum age to purchase all tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21 nationwide.
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Currently, the agency is accepting applications for approval of vaping products but hasn't actually given any of them the green light, meaning that all flavored products currently sold are "unauthorized" for the time being. Juul, the leading e-cigarette maker, has previously stopped selling flavors including mint, mango, creme and cucumber.
"It places the responsibility on the retailer who sells", noted Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. They also apply only to cartridge-based products, which the FDA says are easier for teens to acquire and hide.
This comes as many have raised public health issues related to flavored e-cigarettes in recent months. The Food and Drug Administration first sought to ban sales of flavors during the Obama administration, but was rebuffed by the White House after fierce lobbying by tobacco companies and retail shops.
President Trump says the federal government will soon announce a new strategy to tackle underage vaping, promising, "We're going to protect our families, we're going to protect our children, and we're going to protect the industry".
"It is a capitulation to both Juul and vape shops and gives a green light to the e-cigarette industry to continue to target and addict kids with flavored products", he told Politico. Paul Blair, the group's director of strategic initiatives, praised the exemption for tank-style vapes, but said "the unfortunate reality, however, is that removing so many disposable and closed system vapor products from the market is that the very places where these reduced risk products were once available is where smokers can still buy any cigarette that they want".
"We think we are going to get back in the market very, very quickly", he said at a New Year's Eve news conference, held during a party at his Mar-a-Lago resort, the Times reported.