- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 1, 2020

An emerging voting bloc could swing key states in the November elections: vapers.

Anti-regulatory advocates at Americans for Tax Reform think the vaping voting bloc will be larger than Donald Trump’s 2016 margin of victory in the battleground states that handed him the Electoral College win.

Four out of five electronic cigarette users, or “vapers,” said they are likely to decide their vote this year based on candidates’ positions on vaping, according to polling conducted in October by McLaughlin & Associates for Americans for Tax Reform. Nearly 4,700 vapers in 17 states were surveyed, and the group’s Paul Blair identified the battleground states of Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin as places where vapers could determine the final result.

Vape voters stood out this week among the mostly pro-Trump demonstrators who lined the road to the president’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, where he and his family are spending the holidays.

On several afternoons, demonstrators hoisted placards reading “stop the flavor ban” and “Don’t ban my vape,” while others wore “We Vape We Vote” T-shirts.

Still, Mr. Trump said the federal government would soon announce a strategy to crack down on underage vaping that would entail nixing “certain flavors” for a time.

“We’re going to protect our families, we’re going to protect our children and we’re going to protect the industry,” Mr. Trump said Tuesday.

“Look, vaping can be good from the standpoint — you look at the e-cigarettes, you stop smoking. If you can stop smoking, that’s a big advantage. So we think we’re going to get it back on the market very, very quickly,” he added.

With a ban expected for e-cigarettes on all flavors except menthol and tobacco, albeit temporary, the president could be playing with electoral fire.

“You can discount the people that don’t vote and you can discount the adult vapers that maybe vote on other issues or don’t care about this,” Mr. Blair said. “[But] based on polling that we did in 2016 and that John McLaughlin, Trump’s campaign pollster, did in October three out of four of these voters will be less likely to vote for the president if he does a flavor ban or a ban on these products.”

Mr. Blair pointed to the Wisconsin Senate race in 2016 as an indicator of a contest in which vapers flexed their political muscle and as evidence of a larger trend that could spread nationwide. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican, was an outspoken advocate for vapers on the campaign trail en route to defeating Democratic incumbent Russell D. Feingold. Mr. Blair said he thinks the lessons learned in Wisconsin will apply elsewhere this year.

“There are more than 200,000 adult vapers in Wisconsin in 2016, and Ron Johnson outperformed Donald Trump by 70,000 votes and won by nearly 100,000 votes after not a single poll showed Ron Johnson winning the entire year,” Mr. Blair said. “Every single vape shop across Wisconsin was motivated and engaged and politically active to get Ron Johnson [elected].”

Mr. Trump risked alienating those voters last year when he considered an outright ban on e-cigarettes and a ban on flavored e-cigarettes. After indicating he shared public health concerns associated with the product, Mr. Trump reversed course after campaign manager Brad Parscale reportedly privately warned him that the issue could backfire with many voters in his corner.

Precisely what the Trump administration’s posture toward vapers will be in November remains to be determined, but supporters of additional regulations on e-cigarettes are hopeful they can sway Mr. Trump.

Vaping opponents do not share Americans for Tax Reform’s belief that addressing public health concerns about vaping would irreparably harm Mr. Trump’s reelection chances. Among the groups advocating for regulations are the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and Parents Against Vaping e-cigarettes.

“Vape shop owners are very loud, but their so-called polling doesn’t pass the smell test,” Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told The Washington Times.

“This is a new issue,” Mr. Myers said. “In the decades I’ve worked on tobacco-related issues, I’ve never seen such fervor and anxiety among parents of all political persuasions about what’s happening.

“Anything short of tackling the problem of flavored e-cigarettes that have fueled the epidemic will both fail from a public health standpoint and harm the politician who takes that position.”

More than 25% of high school seniors said they had vaped nicotine or marijuana in the past month, the annual Monitoring the Future survey from the National Institute for Drug Abuse found in December.

Mr. Blair, however, believes new regulation of e-cigarettes could affect the persuasions of voters whose primary issue is the economy. Mr. Blair said one of the biggest obstacles on the horizon before the elections involves a May deadline for manufacturers of e-cigarettes to apply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to remain operable and avoid enforcement. Mr. Blair estimated that changes to the industry could place some 150,000 jobs at risk and affect 13 million consumers nationwide.

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