Update: Check candidates and their respective positions towards vaping for the 2020 U.S. presidential elections.

Reflecting on the potential regulatory actions under the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) proposed deeming rules and a plethora of local, state, and federal proposals intended to curtail sales, marketing, and product accessibility, I remain at a loss. The 2020 election is likely to be one of the most important political races in modern American history with universal implications. Considering the public perception of vaping in the United States and the massive public outcry for bans, it wouldn’t be surprising if e-cigarettes, vaporizers, mods, and other related products become fixtures of a would-be president’s public health platform.

Prolific (yet controversial) Republican strategist Grover Norquist, has argued this sentiment before. In a 2015 column for the online edition of the Dallas Morning News, columnist Tod Robberson recollected a pre-GOP primary debate panel he attended that featured himself, a Texas state lawmaker, and Norquist.  

“The big surprise was when [Norquist] suggested that one big [issue] gaining a toehold ahead of the 2016 elections is … (drumroll, please) vaping,” Robberson wrote, alluding to the discussions held during this panel. “As in e-cigarettes. It turns out that the Democrats, led by Hillary Clinton, are bound and determined to yank the e-cigarettes right from the lips of freedom-loving Americans in order to protect Big Tobacco and the government’s tax share from cigarette sales,” he added.

Considering Robberson’s observations from the pre-primary phase of the 2016 presidential cycle, Norquist’s remarks were intriguing and couldn’t be more accurate. While much of the conversation in the 2016 presidential cycle didn’t focus on e-cigarettes directly, many policy debates focused on much of the issues that gave Trump the presidency over Clinton. Such matters included taxation, reducing the regulatory state, and reforming national health care to be more consumer oriented.

History repeats itself

Interestingly enough, Norquist likened vaping as a tax issue. Before the panel that Robberson recollected, Norquist wrote a 2014 piece in National Review with Paul Blair, the director of strategic initiatives for the Americans for Tax Reform (an organization that Norquist founded and continues to lead).

Norquist and Blair argue: “Public-health do-gooders have found a new target for tax increases: e-cigarettes and vapor products.” Adding context to the claim, both additionally write on the growing anti-vaping movement that has ultimately reached its zenith in the past year. Norquist has even gone to press in recent months saying that Trump may have issues getting re-elected if FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and (and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams in a lesser role) continue their policymaking based on misinformation, hysteria, and unchecked power.

Though I’ve cited Norquist and his ilk extensively in this column, the truth of the matter is alarming. I may not entirely agree with him politically, but, Norquist has taken it upon himself to bring light to this issue among the “swamp” community of D.C. Republican-Democratic powerbrokers. Thus, I submit the argument that vapers could face a war on all sides of the American political debate in the coming presidential election, based on Norquist’s evidence and the unfortunate regulatory and legislative assaults on vaping unfolding before our eyes.

I’ve reached out to Americans for Tax Reform for comment from Blair or Norquist. They did not respond by press time. If a response is submitted over the next few days, this piece will be updated to reflect those comments.

Trump is responsible for Gottlieb

President Trump faces record-low approval ratings among the American electorate. Between nativist immigration policies and protectionist economic policies, it is no surprise that many Americans believe Trump will be a “one-shot wonder.” Ideological tropes aside, the support for regulatory action against e-cigarettes and vapor products isn’t new, nor an initiative of the current administration. Gottlieb merely resumed the campaign against vaping that was started under his predecessors in the Obama administration.

Nonetheless, the suggestion that Gottlieb was once considered a “free-market” friendly public health regulator was a bit premature. I do admit that Gottlieb has done some decent things for drug prices and access to new medications for sick patients; however, the man has also done a lot of harm to legal industries. The most apparent example, as evidenced by the content of this commentary piece, is in the vaping and alternative nicotine product spaces.

Attributing potential regulatory action to flawed data collection on youth drug habits, Gottlieb helped manufacture the vaping “epidemic.” Though I believe he is complicit, Gottlieb was a made a fool by the anti-smoking lobby and the plethora organizations that sway public health policy to reflect extreme political agendas. Politically, Gottlieb is a loose end that could potentially drag Trump down further among unaffiliated voters and would-be supporters. Barring the Mueller-Russia probe and the hyperpartisan border wall pipedream, Gottlieb’s support of misinformation campaigns, hysteria, and lies about vaping reflect on the character of the president. Trump nominated Gottlieb, supported him through the confirmation process, and continues to allow him to run the FDA with virtually no oversight from White House staff. Aside from the fights to repeal Obamacare, Trump has very little interest in public health policy. This leaves space for Gottlieb and Adams, in a lesser capacity, to regulate e-cigarettes at levels Obama’s presidency intended too. In the summer of last year, I also wrote on how the trade war between the United States and China is negatively impacting the domestic vaping industry.

Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, wrote in a submission to the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office that “a rapid rise in the tariffs assessed on vaping products will only result in a tax increase on American businesses and consumers.” Vapor Technology Association advocates have additionally submitted similar comments in late December requesting exclusion from the exorbitant 25 percent tariff increase on vapor kits. Lo and behold; the Trump administration hasn’t heeded these requests at the expense of consumers and an industry that mostly comprises small, local businesses. While there is no useful polling on the perceptions of the president among vaping consumers and industry representatives, Trump’s attack on this industry are reasons enough to be wary of casting your ballot in support of him.

One would ask if Republican-leaning e-cigarette consumers would support another GOP candidate, like former Ohio Governor John Kasich or libertarian-leaning Jeff Flake of Arizona, an ex-U.S. Senator. But, given the historical trends of party politics, any right-wing challenger would be a significant underdog given that incumbent presidents have rarely lost their nominations for re-election. Jeff Flake, nonetheless, has shifted the conversation and announced that he has no intention of running for president in 2020. Kasich certainly talks a big game, but nothing is sure for him. If I was a betting man, Bob Corker, a Senator from Tennesse seems the most likely individual to mount a run against Trump in 2020. There are other names to consider, but the most visible are some of the names mentioned herein.

With a crowded field, Democrats are just as frightening

As this piece was written, Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey announced his intent to run for the party’s nomination for President of the United States. Booker, an ardent supporter of the Democrat’s public health policy and a national single-payer health insurance system, joins a tumultuous field of announced and potential contenders.

According to a tabulation of all “declared” and “exploring” Democratic candidates, ten people are gunning for the party’s nomination. Another 14 senators, business leaders, and state governors are expected to announce a run or are on record for “considering all options” for a 2020 blitz. (I based my analysis on two lists of declared or exploring candidates provided by Vox and Ballotpedia.) Billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the controversial former mayor of New York City and staunch anti-smoking advocate, is considering a 2020 run, according to commentators’ speculation and remains someone to watch. A former Republican who’s on record for being a hypocrite on cannabis legalization and called “Nanny Bloomberg” for his anti-smoking policies while mayor, Bloomberg is one of the more vocal would-be candidates.

Either way, the points to consider on the Democratic side of house is the rise of the anti-vaping lobby’s political prowess. Organizations like the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society, the Truth Initiative, and the Campaign for Smoke-Free Kids have very active political arms and continue to push the envelope with the misinformation campaigns. For the conservative Capital Research Center late last year, I wrote a piece covering the funding apparatus between public health organizations to suppress the vaping industry at every possible turn. Using information collected by the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Michelle Minton as a grounding, all of these organizations have common donors and support similar groups of federal-level politicians to push public health policies that implicate companies like Juul for being so-called peddlers of vapor products targeted at children. I do mention this as a side note; however, the funding has been targeted to Democratic politicians that are now running or considering presidential bids.

Moving forward

I’ll continue to update you all on the political climate. Being a former political consultant for both Republicans and Democrats, the information I can gather is most likely 100 percent accurate (no promises). Also, keep in mind that the political landscape changes every minute, every hour, every day, every week, and every month. While I see a major political showdown for the survival of the vaping industry as a platform in the 2020 presidential race, I also could be wrong. As of this column, I do wish to reiterate the argument that we are walking into a shit show. All we can do is continue to fight for an industry, make it known that we are concerned abour politics, and that we continue to make our voices heard. Now, excuse me while I step down from my soapbox.

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Michael McGrady Jr is a columnist for Vaping Post's English edition. He is a critically acclaimed journalist with awards and recognition from across the industry. He was a finalist for ECigClick's annual vape awards in 2019 and 2020, a KAC Tobacco Harm Reduction Scholarship Fellow in 2019, among other honors. All articles express his own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the Editor's view.