Back in September, President Donald Trump announced that he planned to roll out a federal ban of most flavored e-cigarette products, in light of rising teen vaping rates and a nationwide epidemic of vaping-related lung injuries. The proposed policy won accolades from many parents and public health advocates; even Senate Democrats supported the ban, urging the FDA to implement it sooner rather than later. One extremely vocal group, however, did not support the proposed ban: vapers and vape shop owners, who took to social media and Washington, D.C. in droves to express their disapproval and encourage Trump not to pass it.
Apparently, they were successful. On Monday, the New York Times reported that Trump had decided not to roll out the proposed policy, largely due to pressure from vaping industry activists and concern that such legislation would affect his election chances in 2020.
Trump announced his ban in response to the growing e-cigarette, or vaping, associated lung injury (EVALI) epidemic. Symptoms of EVALI include persistent coughing, chest pain, and shortness of breath, which are sometimes accompanied by nausea, fever, and vomiting. To date, nearly 2,000 people have been affected by the epidemic and 40 people have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Many cities and states have passed legislation banning the sale of e-cigarettes in some form, including New York, Michigan, and Massachusetts.
Though Trump’s announcement garnered widespread support from public health advocates and anti-smoking activists, vaping industry members were furious, arguing that the policy was a knee-jerk reaction to appease public health advocates. As Rolling Stone previously reported, many vaping industry members who had previously voted for Trump self-identified as single-issue voters, promising to withdraw their support in 2020 should he pass the ban. A poll commissioned by the Vapor Technology Association that was reportedly shared with Trump’s advisors seemed to support that, indicating that a flavors ban could have detrimental effects on Trump’s chances in the 2020 election.
At the start of the epidemic last summer, CDC officials had little knowledge of the potential culprit, urging people to avoid vaping altogether. The CDC has since shed more light on the potential culprits behind the epidemic, reporting that of 867 patients, nearly 86% had used black-market THC cartridges, either alone or in addition to traditional nicotine products. (Because of a lack of regulation, black-market cartridges are believed to contain more potentially harmful material than those legally produced in cannabis-legal states.) Yet Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, cautioned that not all of the EVALI cases were linked to bootleg THC cartridges, and that many patients reported using only traditional e-cigarettes: “I’d like to stress that we don’t know what the risky material or substance is,” she added. “THC may be a marker for a way that cartridges were prepared or way that the devices are producing harm.”
Over the past few years, teenage vaping rates have risen astronomically, with a federal survey showing that nearly 1 in 4 high school student had vaped within the past 30 days. Anti-vaping activists have long argued that flavors like mint, mango, and creme brulee have been instrumental in getting children and teenagers hooked on e-cigarettes, and indeed, nearly 60% of high school students said that they used mint, menthol, or fruit flavors, according to the survey.