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Gottlieb testifies at a hearing on the opioid crisis. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has presented senior White House staff with his plan to effectively ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in convenience stores throughout the United States, according to two sources familiar with the meeting.

Behind the scenes: Gottlieb met this afternoon in the West Wing with officials from the Domestic Policy Council, the White House counsel's office and the National Economic Council. Joe Grogan, the director of the Domestic Policy Council, arranged the meeting.

Why it matters: Gottlieb has said he regards the wild surge in teen vaping as an “epidemic” and one of the most important public health crises his agency confronts. He is trying to walk a fine line in regulating the industry. He's also described e-cigarettes as useful tools to help adult smokers quit smoking.

  • The FDA announced the substance of this plan in November. The agency has spent the past three months writing the guidance and getting it cleared through the Department of Health and Human Services. Today, Gottlieb briefed the White House for the first time. This is the final step before carrying out the policy.
  • Some prominent Democrats believe Gottlieb has not moved quickly or aggressively enough. At a Wednesday hearing on Capitol Hill, House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) blamed the FDA’s slowness to regulate e-cigarettes for “the epidemic we face today.”
  • On the other side, conservative groups say Gottlieb is overregulating e-cigarettes and could hurt an industry they believe is helping some people quit smoking.

The details: Gottlieb has foreshadowed a larger plan to reduce smoking rates. But the plan he gave the White House today is only his narrower plan to restrict the sales of flavored e-cigarettes — to keep them away from children and teenagers.

  • How the plan would work: The FDA would stand on shaky legal ground if it imposed an outright ban on the sales of flavored e-cigarettes in convenience stores. But what the agency is doing amounts to an effective ban, with less legal exposure.
  • Under the new FDA enforcement policy, if a store wants to sell flavored e-cigarettes, it has to ask people for the ID cards before they enter the store. (The definition of "flavored" excludes tobacco, mint and menthol flavors.)
  • That means if a gas station wants to sell flavored e-cigarettes, it would need to build a separate room and ask people for their IDs before they enter the room. (It could also come up with other schemes, but would need to verify the age of the shopper before they browse the shelves.)

When we shared our reporting with the FDA, spokeswoman Jennifer Rodriguez emailed: "I can confirm that Dr. Gottlieb was at the White House today, but cannot confirm any details. You’ll need to contact White House for questions about any discussions that may have taken place."

  • A White House spokesman responded: “We don’t have any announcements at this time.”

What’s next: The White House needs to give the green light before the FDA can start enforcing the policy.

Go deeper

Updated 8 hours ago - World

UK government: Kremlin has plan "to install pro-Russian leadership" in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Photo: Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary on Saturday night said the government has "information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine."

Driving the news: U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called the intelligence "deeply concerning" in a statement to Axios. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

Updated 10 hours ago - Science

This powerful new accelerator looks for keys to the center of atoms

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nuclear physicists trying to piece together how atoms are built are about to get a powerful new tool.

Why it matters: When the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams begins experiments later this spring, physicists from around the world will use the particle accelerator to better understand the inner workings of atoms that make up all the matter that can be seen in the universe.

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: FDA OKs antiviral drug remdesivir for non-hospitalized COVID patients — Walensky: CDC language "pivoting" on "fully vaccinated" — Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Teens and adults missed 37 million vaccinations during COVID — Team USA 100% vaccinated against COVID ahead of Beijing Olympics — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America — Annual COVID vaccine preferable to boosters, says Pfizer CEO.
  3. Politics: Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates — Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults — Beijing officials urge COVID-19 "emergency mode" before Winter Olympics.
  5. Variant tracker