(Paul Blair) –In a striking blow to common sense and the well-being of millions of people, President Trump announced Wednesday that his administration would be moving forward on rules to prohibit the sale of all flavored e-cigarettes. This misguided move will kill more than 10,000 small businesses, eliminate nearly 90,000 jobs, and force millions of adults who use e-cigarettes to reduce and eliminate their dependence on harmful cigarettes to seek out vaping products on the unregulated black market or return to smoking. Even more, this march toward prohibition will do irreparable harm to the coalition needed by Republicans to secure victory in 2020.
On the basis of public health alone, limiting the ability of adults to access reduced-risk and proven-effective alternatives to cigarettes is an unjust assault on consumer freedom. The global scientific consensus is that when an adult vapes nicotine instead of smoking a cigarette to get nicotine, the commercially available e-cigarette reduces the harm associated with smoking by at least 95%. Without combustion, there is no tar. Smoking is deadly because of the byproduct of lighting something on fire. Even skeptics such as former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and current Center for Tobacco Products Director Mitch Zeller agree with this assessment on the potential health benefit of adults making the switch.
While the evidence about the net public health benefit of vaping over smoking for America’s 34 million adult smokers is overwhelming, an onslaught of orchestrated attacks against the vaping industry has convinced some people that vaping is the most dangerous thing known to man. Lost in the entire debate, however, is the question of what exactly people are vaping. Of the six recent deaths attributed to vaping, multiple deaths involved illicit street cannabis, THC, and unknown oils obtained on the black market. Blaming “vaping” for a person’s use of illegally obtained marijuana street liquid is like blaming the dangers of “driving” for a person’s consumption of 10 drinks they found behind a bar dumpster before getting behind the wheel of a car and going to the store. This new “scourge” and the “epidemic” of vaping is best described as a misinformed moral panic.
If the Trump administration has genuine concerns about the health effects of unregulated cannabis, THC, and the marijuana market, it can begin a lobbying effort to reclassify and regulate the products as something other than Schedule I substances at the federal level. If, however, they impose a ban on flavored nicotine e-cigarettes, they should know they are threatening a potentially powerful political constituency.
A ban on flavored e-cigarettes could cost Trump a second term. Census data and a state-by-state analysis of the prevalence of adult vaping published in the Annals of American Medicine in 2016 suggest vapers vote and could threaten to derail Trump’s reelection campaign.
Voters in at-most 12 states with an adult population of 79 million will determine the outcome of the presidential election next year. These states include Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Georgia, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Maine, Arizona, and Nevada. Based on the most recently available FDA-funded survey data, 4.15 million adults in these states use electronic cigarettes. In 2016, 61.4% of the voting-age population voted. If that figure held true in 2020, roughly 2.55 million adults who vape would be voting in these important battleground states.
Trump won Michigan by under 11,000 votes in 2016, where there are 422,000 adult vapers. These staggering numbers play out in Florida where Trump won by 112,911 votes (with over 904,000 vapers), Wisconsin where Trump won by 22,748 votes (with at least 267,000 vapers), Minnesota where Clinton won by 44,765 votes (over 172,000 vapers), and Pennsylvania where Trump won by 44,292 votes (over 450,000 vapers).
It’s not hard to see how this well-organized vaping constituency could swing the outcome of the Electoral College one way or the other.
Internal national polling conducted in part by Americans for Tax Reform in October 2016, just five months after the Obama administration announced their own timeline for a de facto e-cigarette ban, found that 4 out of 5 adult vapers’ vote-moving issue was where a politician stood on the issue of taxing, regulating, and banning e-cigarettes. There aren’t just a significant number of vapers in important battleground states, but most of these consumers are voters on the basis of preserving access to e-cigarettes above all other political and policy issues before them.
2020 wouldn’t be the first time that vapers organized to support or defeat a candidate for elective office. Just ask Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who attributes some of his come-from-behind victory in 2016 (when not a single poll showed him winning), to vaping, which he strongly endorsed as a right for adults in Wisconsin. He outperformed Trump by 70,000 votes statewide. You could also ask former Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who couldn’t even manage to place first or second in a Republican congressional primary in 2016 after pushing tax hikes on e-cigarettes in the state. You could also reach out to one of the first political victims of vaping, Democrat Rep. Liz Thomson, who was kicked out of office by voters in 2014 after pushing new taxes on the products. She was defeated by just 374 votes that year.
Capitulating to the demands of liberal anti-vaping billionaire activists such as Michael Bloomberg is a bad look for Trump, one of the most accomplished deregulatory presidents in history. Instead of blaming vaping for the harms associated with illicit products obtained on the street, Trump should embrace the harm reduction potential of e-cigarettes to save millions of adult smokers’ lives. His reelection prospects may depend on it.
Paul Blair (@gopaulblair) is the director of strategic initiatives at Americans for Tax Reform and a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog.