Melania Trump said Wednesday she's glad some stores are pulling electronic cigarettes off the shelves amid an explosion in vaping among young people, calling it a necessary step to protect the next generation.
"We need to be proactive before it gets out of control," she said at a White House "listening session" where a small group of teenagers from around the country told her about their experiences using e-cigarettes.
The first lady's discussion with the teens comes as the CDC reports that more than 1,000 people in 48 states have been affected by a lung infection caused by vaping. As of Oct. 1, the CDC confirmed there had been 18 vaping-related deaths.
Luka Kinard, 16, of High Point, North Carolina, said he quit vaping only after spending 39 days in rehab in California in October 2018.
He said he had been using e-cigarettes for about a year when he began experiencing intense chest pain, insomnia and cold sweats and thought he was having a heart attack at 15. He said his parents thought a seizure he suffered in September 2018 was tied to vaping, and they sent him away for treatment.
"It wasn't until then that my parents recognized, 'Hey, this is really an issue,'" he told the first lady.
Ally Harrison, 18, said she suffered from physical and mental ailments, including heart palpitations and panic attacks. Friends in her hometown of Baytown, Texas, encouraged her to vape, assuring her it would "calm you down."
But it had the opposite effect. "I had worse panic attacks. The fear was always there," Ally said.
Asked by Mrs. Trump how he obtained e-cigarettes, Luka said he got them from friends or by hanging around outside smoke shops or gas stations and enlisting strangers to get the products for him.
Amid an increased focus on vaping by young people, a few big-name retailers have said they will no longer sell those products.
Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, said last month that it will stop selling electronic cigarettes at its namesake stores and Sam's Clubs in the U.S. when it sells out its current inventory.
Supermarket chain Kroger and drugstore chain Walgreens announced Monday they will follow Walmart's lead.
Juul Labs Inc., the nation's largest maker of electronic cigarettes, is ending advertising in the U.S.
In response to a surge in vaping by young people, President Donald Trump recently announced that the federal government will act to ban thousands of flavors used in e-cigarettes, mostly the fruity flavors that are believed to entice young people to start vaping.
The first lady, who has a 13-year-old son, Barron, went public with her concerns about youth vaping in a tweet last month. She sat with Trump when he announced the proposed ban, and Wednesday's roundtable was the second time she highlighted youth vaping this week.
Federal statistics show a significant increase in vaping among teens between 2017 and 2018. More than 1 in 4 high school students reported vaping in the past month, up from 1 in 5 students in 2018, according to the latest statistics.
Health authorities are also investigating hundreds of vaping-related lung illnesses.
The Truth Initiative , a nonprofit, anti-tobacco organization that brought the group of nine students to meet with the first lady in the ornate White House Blue Room, wants the federal government to ban all flavors used in vaping, including mint and menthol, among other steps.
Industry groups, such as the American Vaping Association, which represents makers and retailers of e-cigarettes and vaping solutions, oppose a ban. They argue that it could create a "black market" for vaping products and push adults who vape — as an alternative to traditional cigarettes — to resume smoking.
E-cigarettes work by heating a liquid to produce an aerosol that users inhale.