WASHINGTON, D.C. — Libertarian Party officials joined vaping industry members in criticizing President Donald Trump’s plans to recommend a ban on the sale of flavored vaping products, a decision he announced Wednesday morning.
Flavored vaping liquids — known colloquially as “e-liquids” — have come under attack from critics citing concerns that underage consumers could be attracted to the multitude of available flavors, as well as recent questions about the safety of e-cigarettes after six lung-related deaths were reportedly connected to vaping.
Members of the vaping industry dispute the concerns about safety, suggesting vaping does significantly more good than harm for cigarette smokers who make the switch.
Tyler Burdis, president of the Dakota Vaping Association and co-owner of three vaping outlets, worries the ban will have an unintended effect of raising tobacco-related mortality rates by taking away alternatives to traditional combustible cigarettes, known to cause cancer, heart disease, lung conditions and pregnancy complications.
“It’s important to keep in mind the 480,000 preventable deaths from tobacco use each year,” Burdis said, citing an estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “That number is only going to increase because of this ban.”
Burdis also pointed to evidence that the publicized deaths appear to be linked to counterfeit cartridges containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and vitamin E oil. The latter substance, sometimes used as a thickening agent by unscrupulous or untrained counterfeiters, are not safe for inhalation, experts say.
“Lipids [i.e., oils] in the lung are highly toxic and have been associated with lung injury for years,” retired California pulmonologist Dr. Howard Mintz said in an interview with cannabis resource website Leafly.com.
Reputable vaping retailers do not carry such dangerous products, Burdis said, yet will nevertheless take the full brunt of the ban.
As to the claim that eliminating flavored products will reduce accessibility to minors, Kevin Quick, owner of Down Ohm Vapors in Rapid City, S.D., said the argument for additional regulation is a moot point.
“Let’s quit talking about kids,” Quick said. “It’s already illegal for kids to vape. What we’re talking about is lifesaving commerce for adults.”
Burdis agreed, adding that flavoring is a major component in helping adults make the switch from combustible cigarettes to e-cigarettes.
“Once again, we see government stepping on the rights of the many in response to the actions of a few,” said Daniel Fishman, Libertarian Party Executive Director. “This kind of knee-jerk reaction skips past bad policy and right into state control of established businesses by telling them what they can and can’t sell in their stores. That’s not how business is done in America.”
The announcement of a federal ban comes on the heels of a similar state-level ban announced by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) last week which was met with bipartisan support. A spokeswoman for Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirley (R-Clarklake) affirmed the Governor’s standing to enact such a ban.
“The governor has the authority to declare a public health emergency, and then to declare rule in response to that emergency and we do not intend to challenge the governor,” spokeswoman Amber McCann told the Detroit Free Press. “The majority leader shares her concerns about the impacts of those products on kids.”
The American Vaping Association took special exception to the method of enactment used by Whitmer. The ban — the first of its kind in the nation — was not passed by the Michigan legislature, but is instead being enacted through an emergency administrative rule process.
“In this country, laws are made by legislators, not governors desperate for press attention,” AVA president Gregory Conley said last week in a statement. “Anyone who fears the prospect of an out-of-control government should be appalled by this attempt by the executive branch to unilaterally ban an adult product.”
Whitmer’s ban goes a step further, also prohibiting e-cigarette companies from “misleading marketing of vaping products” by using words like “clear,” “safe” or “healthy” to describe products, the Detroit Free Press reported last Wednesday.
When asked what a federal ban on flavored vaping products would mean to their industry, neither Burdis nor Quick offered much optimism.
“Everybody in our industry is in a panic,” Quick said. “If you take out all but the tobacco flavors, I don’t see small shops surviving.”
Burdis offered a similar outlook, noting larger e-cigarette companies such as Juul would have an upper hand in surviving, and could even stand to benefit from heavy regulation.
“They will have the means to comply with any requirements that come out of this,” Burdis said. “They’ll get rich off it while the smaller brick-and-mortar stores are destroyed.”
Juul, whose brand name is often used synonymously with vaping, has earned a U.S. market share of approximately 70%, according to marketing research firm Nielsen. At the end of 2018, with annual revenue topping $2 billion, the company sold a 35% stake in their business for $12.8 billion to the Altria Group, formerly known as Philip Morris Companies.
Altria/Philip Morris is no stranger to Capitol Hill. Between 1998 and 2004, the company and its affiliates spent more than $100 million lobbying the federal government, making it the second most active lobbying organization in the nation, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
The tobacco behemoth is also no stranger to Trump, donating $500,000 to his inaugural celebration. The Wall Street Journal reported donors who gave $500,000 or more to the celebration fund were invited to a special “candlelight dinner” event during inauguration weekend with President-Elect Trump, Vice President-Elect Pence and their spouses.
That cozy financial relationship, viewed in the context of Wednesday’s announcement, doesn’t sit well with Fishman.
“The president loves to claim he’s this great champion of American small businesses, but when he’s put to the test, he won’t hesitate to throw them under the bus to serve his cronies,” Fishman said.
Pence also received substantial contributions from Altria and other tobacco industry leaders during his Indiana gubernatorial campaigns. Altria/Phillip Morris, Lorillard, and R.J. Reynolds combined to contribute at least $63,500 in 2012 and 2016, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Whether the problem exists within the vaping industry or within decisions made by its clientele, Fishman believes the answer will not and cannot be found in government, only in individual determination.
“Our statement of principles speaks to the very core of this issue,” Fishman said. “‘We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.’”