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Sen. Tim Kaine: 'I Strongly Support' Ban On Flavored E-Cigarettes


Today New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a plan to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in his state. Just days ago, President Trump announced a similar ban at the federal level. Both initiatives come amid reports of hundreds of cases of vaping-related lung illnesses and a growing concern over the marketing of e-cigarettes with flavors like bubble gum or candy cane to teenagers. We spoke about this earlier with Virginia Senator Tim Kaine. He recently introduced a bill that would raise the federal minimum age for purchasing any tobacco product to 21. I asked him what he makes of President Trump's push for a federal ban on flavored e-cigarettes.

TIM KAINE: I strongly support it. So the announcement this week that the administration made was very positive. We have to wait and see the details of what they propose to do. But we have an epidemic in the country. After decades of reducing youth smoking, the e-cigarette vaping phenomenon has sort of turned it around. One point five million more young people began smoking in 2018 and 2017, largely driven by e-cigarettes.

So we need to raise the tobacco age to 21. We also need to curb the kinds of marketing and other practices that are designed specifically to appeal to young people. And the use of flavors is one of the key areas where young people get sucked into something that they shouldn't. So I am very heartened by the administration's proposal.

MCCAMMON: And at least from what you know so far about that proposal, do you think President Trump is going far enough?

KAINE: Well, I think there's probably more to do. We do have to see the details of this ban and I have written to federal officials now for a long time encouraging them to do more to deal with some of these marketing techniques. I think we kind of look at this in three buckets. We've got to raise the tobacco age to 21 for all products, including e-cigarettes. We have to stop the flavors and other tools that are used to market to young people. And then we have to get to the bottom of these illnesses and determine whether there's more either with respect to traditional e-cigarettes or with respect to the vaping of marijuana-based, THC-containing products.

MCCAMMON: And, of course, in May, you introduced the Tobacco Free Youth Act in the Senate, which would raise the minimum - the nationwide minimum age to buy all tobacco products from 18 up to age 21. This is a divided moment in our politics, but this is a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by your Republican colleague, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. I'm curious - what's your working relationship been like on this bill?

KAINE: So Mitch and I talked about it really beginning in early April - late March, early April. And we approached it from our perspectives - senators from states that have traditional tobacco industries. Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia are the states where tobacco is still the most prevalent. And we were really, really alarmed, both of us, by the rise in youth smoking.

When I was governor of Virginia, I banned smoking in restaurants and bars, and we celebrated when the youth smoking rate in Virginia went below the national average, which was a big deal. But when we see how much of our progress on youth smoking has been sort of wiped out the last few years, we decided to introduce a bill to raise the federal tobacco age to 21 on all products with no exceptions. But we also preserve the ability of states to go even further if they want to.

MCCAMMON: And as you noted, in your home state of Virginia, tobacco is an important product, it's the 10th largest agricultural commodity, I believe. Are you hearing any pushback from Virginia tobacco farmers?

KAINE: We're getting a little bit of a pushback or concern. But I would say overwhelmingly, the response has been positive. Just as it was when I when I was governor, and we banned smoking in restaurants and bars, there was some pushback. But from the day that we did it, people have been very, very happy with it. Nobody wants to go backwards. And we're sort of getting the same response in trying to raise the tobacco age to 21. A little bit of concern, but overwhelmingly, people think it's the right thing to do.

MCCAMMON: That was U.S. Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. Senator, thank you so much for joining us.

KAINE: Glad to, Sarah. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.