The rumors started spreading on Monday at around 1:00 p.m. Then came a disturbing tweet from Paul Blair of Americans for Tax Reform, one of the best-connected conservative vaping proponents in Washington.
“I’m hearing troubling information that a flavored vape ban is truly being considered by the Trump admin, with an announcement expected as early as today,” said Blair. “It’s important that people let @realDonaldTrump @SecAzar @SteveFDA how destructive to jobs and health that would be!”
Blair sounded the alarm the last time the White House threatened a flavor ban too. And like the last time, he began tweeting at Trump and his campaign manager Brad Parscale a state-by-state breakdown of how Trump could lose the 2020 presidential election by banning vape flavors.
The Vapor Technology Association (VTA) asked for engagement too, signalling that the warning was a credible threat. Vapers shared the news on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Some online vendors, like Minnesota e-liquid manufacturer The Plume Room, sent urgent messages to customers asking them to call the White House. People said the White House phones were very busy.
Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb started to tweet about vaping regulation soon after the rumors started—another good indicator that high level decisions or discussions were taking place. Gottlieb, although out of the government, seems to remain in the loop—especially on his pet policy areas, like vaping.
“The appeal to kids comes from the flavors and the sleek form/factor of pod based devices like Juul,” said Gottlieb, banging away at JUUL, his favorite target. “The access is convenience stores and straw purchases by older kids selling to younger ones. Tobacco 21 helps. Removing pod products like Juul and flavors is also a critical step.”
But no announcement ever came. Late in the day, CASAA issued a call to action, and Paul Blair asked vapers to stay engaged on Christmas Eve. “It’s after 5:30PM Eastern,” he tweeted. “That means we aren’t getting an announcement out of the administration today on vaping. I hate to do this, but I’m gonna ask you all to engage again on this issue tomorrow. Stay tuned.”
Some people on social media complained about the “false alarm,” with some even suggesting that vendors were trying to pump up their sales by deliberately frightening vapers over a rumor. Those people are mistaken. What happened was real. The fact that a flavor ban wasn’t announced is good news.
What happened at the White House isn’t certain, but what is certain is that people inside the administration who are sympathetic to the vaping cause heard things that alarmed them, and reached out to their contacts in the vaping world. Paul Blair has connections inside the Trump White House. So do people at VTA. So do other advocates. All of those people heard the same story.
Something was going on at the White House or the Health and Human Services Administration, which runs the FDA, where any regulations would come from. The fact that nothing visible happened today doesn’t mean the people who rang the bells made a mistake.
Despite the President’s apparent effort to hear all sides of the vaping debate, it is well known that some of his closest White House advisors want him to ban flavors. HHS Sec. Alex Azar, First Lady Melania Trump, daughter Ivanka, and Senior Counselor Kellyanne Conway are all pressing Trump to “clear the market” of flavored vaping products. That he hasn’t done it already is a tribute to the work vaping advocates have done so far.
We all need to get used to taking action on a moment’s notice. That’s how real movements operate, and if vapers want to be taken seriously as a political force, that’s what we’ll have to do too. All vapers have been living on pins and needles since the Trump administration announced a flavor ban in September. Trump changed his mind at the last minute in November. That may happen again.
Or maybe it just did.