WASHINGTON — On Feb. 28, the full U.S. House of Representatives voted on House Bill H.R. 2339 and passed the bill with 213 “ayes” and 195 “nays.” H.R. 2339 would prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes, flavored smokeless tobacco, flavored cigars, flavored pipe tobacco, flavored electronic nicotine products and flavored nicotine disposable products.
The legislation now moves to the U.S. Senate for consideration. The Senate may decide not to hear the bill, or it could hear it and amend it—in which case it would go to a conference committee—or it could pass it as it currently stands. However, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a statement explaining that President Donald Trump would likely veto the bill if it were presented to him in its current form.
While the administration stated that it shares the concerns of Congress in youth gaining access to nicotine products, the White House message sent to U.S. Representatives listed several reasons to oppose the bill:
- It is counterproductive to restrict access to products that may be less harmful that combustible cigarettes, including menthol flavored e-liquids, that are rarely used by young people.
- Remote sales should be addressed by applying age-verification technology, not completely prohibit.
- The dubious constitutionality of the bill’s ban on advertising e-cigarette products in a manner that “appeals to an individual under 21 years of age.”
The administration cited its commitment to protecting youth by the president signing the bill raising the minimum legal sales age nationally to 21 and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) prioritization of enforcement against unauthorized marketing of certain e-cigarette products to youth. It further cited FDA’s regular surveillance of and enforcement measures against websites, social media and other publications advertising regulated tobacco products.
The administration further believes that tobacco regulation should not remain in the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, but rather be moved to a new agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services focusing on tobacco regulation. This new agency would be more accountable and have greater capacity to respond as the tobacco product market becomes more complex and effectively respond to tobacco-related public health concerns.
Despite the administration’s expression of its intent to veto the bill in its current form, many things may take place that may change the terms of the bill itself and consequently the president’s response to it should it reach his desk. Tobacco retailers need to stay apprised of the further progress of this bill and be ready to act on developments on the bill as appropriate.
Thomas Briant is the executive director of NATO, a tobacco retailing association based in Lakeville, Minn. Reach him at email@example.com.