Trump breaks vape ban promise after pressure from conservative group

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Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform led a coalition aimed at stopping action to protect kids from vaping addiction.

Donald Trump has reportedly caved to pressure from the tobacco industry and dark money conservative groups, breaking an earlier promise to act to ban flavored e-cigarette vaping products that have addicted teens and been linked to dozens of recent deaths.

The news was first reported by the Washington Post on Sunday.

The move appears to follow recent polling from defenders of the vaping ban, indicating that many Trump voters could turn on him in 2020 if he restricts e-cigarette pods.

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Trump announced that he was planning to take action on vaping in September, as the surgeon general and Melania Trump raised red flags about the growing epidemic of e-cigarette addiction.

"We can’t allow people to get sick. And we can’t have our kids be so affected," he said, as his administration announced imminent action to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and nicotine pods.

An estimated 5 million American youths now vape. In recent months, vaping has gone from health concern to a deadly problem. More than 2,000 users have been diagnosed with EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury) in the United States — at least 42 of those diagnoses resulting in death.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has called the youth e-cigarette epidemic "a public health emergency that demands the strongest possible action by the Food and Drug Administration and policy makers are all levels."

Most Americans support a ban on flavored vaping products, as do most Republicans.

The tobacco and e-cigarette industry have devoted much of their lobbying efforts to opposing new regulations of their products. But a number of conservative political groups have also surprisingly jumped into the fray.

On Oct. 3, a coalition of "center-right" groups joined together to urge Trump to abandon his plans. In an open letter, they asked that he "protect adult vapers by keeping flavored products legally available" and called his proposal "among the most striking and nontransparent violations of your commitment to limit dark regulations since you took office."

The principal author of the coalition's letter was Grover Norquist.

Norquist has been a leading conservative figure for decades, convening weekly organizing meetings for the most influential right-wing groups in America and working with conservative lawmakers to shrink the size of government. His dark-money Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) group receives millions annually for its efforts to block any new tax increases.

While ATR does not disclose its donors, the Center for Media and Democracy and The Guardian have documented multiple times when it received major financial support from the tobacco industry in previous years.

Though ATR's stated purpose is to "oppos[e] all tax increases as a matter of principle," for the past several years it has spent much of its effort opposing new vaping restrictions. In February, it announced that Norquist would lead "a coalition of free market, limited government, and conservative organizations" against any "aggressive regulatory assault on businesses who sell electronic cigarettes and vapor products in the United States."

In the days following Trump's September announcement, ATR posted an array of videos aimed at convincing Trump that his base did not want him to restrict vaping. One September segment on Fox News featured an ATR official warning that banning vaping would alienate "single-issue voters" and "may cost Trump the election in 2020."

The same official made this case in a Washington Examiner op-ed, citing their own polling in swing states.

Despite its clear attempts to influence Trump and his administration, ATR's lobbying disclosure forms appear to lack any mention of the effort.

ATR did not respond to multiple inquiries about the omission.

ATR continued to push the narrative that action on vaping could hurt Trump in swing states through the fall, eventually capturing the attention of Trump's 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale. Parscale then reportedly began encouraging Trump and the White House to abandon the effort.

Following that outreach from his campaign head, Trump appeared to begin backtracking. In mid-September, he tweeted that he simply wanted to ensure vaping, which he called an "alternative to Cigarettes," was "SAFE for ALL," adding that he was more concerned about keeping "counterfeits off the market, and keep[ing] young children from Vaping."

Sunday's report made clear that Trump has reportedly abandoned his earlier efforts entirely — ostensibly due to the pressure campaign.

According to the Post, which cited a top adviser with knowledge of the matter, Trump's proposed ban on flavored e-cigarettes had been recently approved by federal regulators and simply needed Trump's "sign-off."

On Nov. 4, just before a scheduled news conference, Trump dropped the ball.

"Briefed on a flight to a Lexington, Ky., campaign rally, he refused to sign the one-page 'decision memo,' saying he didn’t want to move forward with a ban he had once backed, primarily at his wife’s and daughter’s urging, because he feared it would lead to job losses [...]," the Post wrote.

The outlet noted later that "the influential Americans for Tax Reform led by Grover Norquist" had helped successfully make the vaping industry's case.

Trump's promise of action to protect Americans, followed by a decision to do nothing to placate his political supporters is nothing new. He has repeatedly promised bold action to curb gun violence, only to back down at the urging of the National Rifle Association. One adviser was even quoted by the Post saying that the abandoned plan to ban flavored vaping products was "going to go the way of guns."

The White House did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the reportedly abandoned proposal.

In the meantime, several states have already taken action to ban flavored e-cigarettes. Congress is considering legislative options as well.

On Monday, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) praised Trump for taking "the time to strike the right balance" to "prevent youth vaping" without taking products away from adults.

Norquist retweeted the message.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.