Trump retreats from flavour ban for e-cigarettes

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Advisers say that US President Donald Trump has pulled back from proposed restrictions intended to curb teenage vaping after he was warned of the political fallout among voters, write Annie Karni, Maggie Haberman and Sheila Kaplan for The New York Times.

It was a swift and bold reaction to a growing public health crisis affecting teenagers. Seated in the Oval Office in September, Trump said he was moving to ban the sale of most flavoured e-cigarettes as vaping among young people continued to rise.

“We can’t have our kids be so affected,” Trump said. The first lady, Melania Trump, who rarely involves herself publicly with policy announcements in the White House, was there, too. “She’s got a son,” Trump noted, referring to their teenager, Barron. “She feels very strongly about it.”

But two months later, reported The New York Times on 17 November, under pressure from his political advisers and lobbyists to factor in the potential pushback from his supporters, Trump has resisted moving forward with any action on vaping, while saying he still wants to study the issue.

Even a watered-down ban on flavoured e-cigarettes that exempted menthol, which was widely expected, appears to have been set aside, for now.

Read the original article in The New York Times here.

Trump swayed

On a flight on 4 November, while traveling to a political rally in Kentucky, Trump was swayed by the advisers who warned him of political repercussions to any sweeping restrictions. Reviewing talking points on the ban aboard the plane with advisers, Trump decided to cancel the administration’s rollout of an announcement, which included a news conference that Alex M Azar II, the health and human services secretary, was planning to hold on the issue the next day. Instead, another meeting was proposed.

The discussion aboard the 4 November flight was first reported by The Washington Post.

Last week White House officials pushing for action were still holding out hope that there would be an announcement of a ban on flavoured e-cigarettes, with an exemption for menthol, according to The New York Times article. 

Read the original article in The New York Times here.

Unfolding crisis responses

The proposed ban had gathered significant support this autumn, as the crisis over teenage vaping, with year-over-year increases, coincided with a sprawling outbreak of severe lung injuries. While most of the illnesses, now affecting more than 2,000 people and causing more than 40 deaths, have been attributed to vaping THC products, the e-cigarette industry also became the target of criticism for luring minors into using its products. 

A lack of federal action prompted several states to try to institute bans on flavoured e-cigarettes, spurring the vaping and tobacco industries to mount legal challenges and lobby lawmakers and the White House against regulatory restrictions that would impede adult e-smokers, reports The New York Times.

Juul Labs, the largest seller of e-cigarettes in the country and the target of several federal investigations, had taken most of its flavours off the market in anticipation of a national flavour ban. The company had said that its mint-flavoured pods made up about 70% of its sales; menthol was 10%; and two tobacco flavours accounted for 20%. But many other look-alikes, in flavours like chai and melon, have sprung up to fill the void left by Juul’s actions.

Read the original article in The New York Times here.

Motivated by votes

Trump has since decided to follow the advice of political advisers to stall on the issue and meet with more groups, according to The New York Times.

He is concerned about his chances in 2020, and allies working for the vaping industry have told Trump of battleground state polling of his own voters that showed the issue costing him support. 

One such poll was commissioned by John McLaughlin, one of the Trump campaign pollsters, for the Vapor Technology Association. The poll, which surveyed battleground state voters who vape, showed negative results for Trump if he went ahead with a ban, and was passed around to a number of people in Trump’s circle, including Brad Parscale, his campaign manager, and senior White House officials.

Tony Abboud, the executive director of the group that commissioned the poll that has helped influence the president, said they were encouraged by “what appears to be a move in the right direction for adult smokers and their families. Bans don’t work,” he said. “They never have.”

Read the original article in The New York Times here.

Lobbying campaign

Trump has also been under an intense lobbying campaign over the past seven weeks, waged by tobacco and vaping companies, along with conservative organisations, like Americans for Tax Reform, which are opposed to regulatory limits that would affect retailers, small businesses and adult consumers of e-cigarettes. 

Some have promoted enforcing sales restrictions to protect minors, or raising the national age to 21 for sales of all tobacco products. 

The trajectory of the flavour ban – from a bold pronouncement of swift action to a fizzle after the political realities of taking such an action emerge – is similar to Trump’s stance on gun legislation.

Months after back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and in Dayton, Ohio, when Trump said he wanted to pass “very meaningful background checks”, warnings from gun rights advocates and Republican lawmakers about the political fallout that would result from doing that ultimately led to no action on the issue.

Full report in The New York Times, which is not open access but does allow free access to three articles a month.

Trump Retreats From Flavor Ban for E-Cigarettes

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