Staff Columnist

Grassroots activists challenge Trump to see through the vape screen

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., before his departure to New York, November 2, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., before his departure to New York, November 2, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

A fledgling American political movement recently achieved its first major victory on the national stage.

This month, President Donald Trump ordered a course correction on his administration’s plan to impose new regulations on e-cigarettes and vaporizers. The regulations announced by the president in September would have banned most flavored e-cigarette juices from being sold in the United States.

Trump changed his mind when advisers told him those restrictions would lead to job losses in vape stores, the Washington Post reported this week, based on anonymous comments from Trump’s associates. Trump also was reportedly discouraged by the prospect of losing votes from e-cigarette users.

Predictably, Trump critics in the national media framed the reversal as political gamesmanship.

Trump “caves again to corporate lobbying pressure,” as Washington Post political correspondent James Hohmann put it. The “swift and bold” vape restrictions under consideration, New York Times reporters wrote, were a casualty of “an intense lobbying campaign … waged by tobacco and vaping companies.”

But this is how policymaking — balancing the diverse interests of 330 million Americans — works. Something is proposed, and the people who would be affected debate it.

Corporate and institutional interests influence the process, but the grass-roots, “we vape, we vote” movement has had a much bigger impact than Trump detractors will acknowledge. This month, thousands of pro-vape advocates gathered in front of the White House to protest against regulations.

Those demonstrators were not corporate lackeys, Russian bots or teenagers in disguise. They are small business owners and adult consumers who correctly recognize e-cigarettes as being much safer than traditional cigarettes.

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Flavors are not uniquely attractive to minors, and may be a key factor in converting adult smokers. Polling data from the Vapor Technology Association found 97 percent of adult users in swing states “strongly oppose” flavor bans.

Cynical analyses on the politics of vaping willfully ignore the very real and substantive reasons why e-cigarette restrictions are misguided — they could push millions of adult users back to using far more dangerous combustible tobacco, and give rise to even riskier black market and do-it-yourself vape products. It’s important to note there is no evidence that retail nicotine e-cigarettes are associated with vape-related hospitalizations recorded in Iowa and other states this year.

Trump’s stalled flavor ban, and a host of other regulations proposed or imposed by state and local governments, represent a disproportionate response to the overblown “teen vaping epidemic.” As Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller — unique in being a prominent Democrat opposed to overregulating alternative nicotine devices — wrote in a recent letter to federal officials, the portion of American teens with no history of tobacco use who regularly use vapes is strikingly small, perhaps less than 1 percent.

No one who is paying attention is surprised to see moral alarmists and ardent drug prohibitionists play fast and loose with the facts, since that’s what they have always done. Credit to Trump for peering through the vape screen.

Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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