I had spoken with a friend on November 9th who was present at the DC rally that day. He owns a popular little vape shop in a quaint Virginian town.
All of a sudden, he and many small independent vape stores across America have found themselves up against the establishment restricting their ability to do business. As if starting a business isn't risky enough already. Alongside many other sympathetic and passionate vapers, they marched in Ellipse Park under the banner ‘We Vape We Vote”. More than just a few angry business owners, We Vape We Vote is a political movement – boasting 13 Million registered supporters. This profoundly simple slogan sent a clear message to the Trump administration: Reverse regulations or lose a ton of votes in the 2020 general election.
And remarkably – it seems to have made an impact. Trump announced recently that he's backing off from the flavor ban. At least for now. While of course a welcomed move from those within the industry, it still leaves a skeptical flavor (excuse the pun) in the mouths of professionals and connoisseurs. That the battle may be won, but the war certainly isn't.
Wondering how restricting small businesses could happen in entrepreneurial-friendly America? Land of the free? The western epicenter of the free market?
A Bit of Background
You have probably noticed there has been an ‘epidemic' of vape incidents in recent months. Over 2,000 people have been injured, while 42 have reportedly died. This is obviously an utter tragedy. What the mainstream media has not been very open about reporting though, is the cause stems from black market vaping. The culprit is dangerous products and dodgy street dealers pushing illicit THC cartridges and counterfeit brands. That's what is wreaking mayhem.
Fast forward a few months to the present moment and, President Trump with substantial bi-partisan support in Congress is clamping down on legal vape products. Mostly flavored e-juice. Supposedly to curb the youth from vaping. We argued in the previous article vape regulations and the black market, the evidence for illegal use being the cause, and why banning legal use would likely prove counterproductive.
What's Happening Right Now with Trump?
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The President unveiled plans for a federal ban on flavored e-juice back in September, stating:
“The Trump Administration is making it clear that we intend to clear the market of flavored e-cigarettes to reverse the deeply concerning epidemic of youth e-cigarette use that is impacting children, families, schools and communities.”
Contradictorily aiming to ban legally produced, potentially life-saving flavors (that deter teenagers from smoking) due to the use and detrimental effects of illegal products. Trump stipulated last week that it was necessary to meet industry experts and medical professionals to find “an acceptable solution”. He recently tweeted; “Children's health & safety, together with jobs, will be a focus!” on November 11th.
Will be meeting with representatives of the Vaping industry, together with medical professionals and individual state representatives, to come up with an acceptable solution to the Vaping and E-cigarette dilemma. Children’s health & safety, together with jobs, will be a focus!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 11, 2019
Clearly the economy is, and always has been a focus for Trump. But there are a lot of pieces missing here. If the economy is the motivator, then why only now? 61 days after his hard-line stance and national threats of bans and now he's suddenly interested in ‘having a discussion about jobs'? What changed in those days to bring him to the negotiating table? Well, many variables are involved in the change of direction. But a key component is the grassroots movement ‘We Vape We Vote’.
We Vape We Vote
It seems crystal clear that Trump's advisors warned him about the electoral impact of his decision. Concerns about voters were raised by some of his advisors allegedly on November 4th while on his way to a Kentucky campaign rally. The stated (and pretty obvious) reason being that a flavor ban alongside further restrictive vape regulations could hurt the Republican party in key states next year. So Trump decided not to sign off on this. The New York Times also reported; “allies working for the vaping industry” had warned him that such a move could cost him support.
What we do know for sure is, ‘We Vape We Vote’ played a role in how this has played out so far. Signs displaying the slogan were everywhere at the protests. Placards held up by small business owners from across the country all passionately promoting the message in unison. ‘We Vape We Vote' was formed a couple months back as a direct response to the Vape Ban announcement made by Trump Administration in September. They describe their organization as “a group of like-minded individuals spread all across the United States working together to spread the truth about vaping and protect our fundamental right to access harm reduction products.”
They are a serious and dedicated bunch when it comes to their inalienable right to vape. Started on September 11th, they were at the forefront of the movement to push back against the Trump administration: “..a few minutes before the vape ban announcement, we were in the first lines of deference pushing the only message that matters, #WeVapeWeVote.” They further clarify their impact recently saying; “The vaping community made a huge difference in the first few days of the announcement, forcing Trump to take back his statement and hold on his intention to ban vaping.”
So with Trump recently backing down after the D.C. protest, one would assume people power won out here, and this is over now? Well, not exactly. Because this step back from the President, while progress is not all encompassing. It’s not concrete, nor set in stone. The United States is also, just that. Different states. The federal government has certain powers of course, but the nation is not a monolith. There are several states that have enforced strict vaping rules, regulations or outright bans already.
The States That Have Banned Vaping
We are not out of the woods yet. There are many states across America that have cracked down on vaping already, leaving a lot of room for improvement in both the public and political consciousness. While we should, of course, celebrate Trump's ditching of the federal flavor ban, we mustn't become complacent. Huge amounts of the population in various states are still being denied a basic right to access potentially life-saving products. From Montana to Oregon, cities in California to the state of Rhode Island, legislation is being enacted that is level to, or headed towards full bans.
States that have banned flavors, close to banned, or heavily restricted vape products, include:
New York – Became the first to implement a statewide ban. NY courts have been battling out whether or not to keep the legislation.
Michigan – In September (2019), the state became the first in the country to put a strict limit on the sale of vape products.
Oregon – A 6-month ban on THC, while nicotine remains relatively unaffected due to a judge blocking the order.
Massachusetts – The first state to announce the strictest, statewide ban. Any vape related products, flavored or otherwise. Marijuana and Tobacco. Until at least January 2020, anyway.
Rhode Island – Flavors (nicotine) blocked for 120 days from September, with the potential for a further 60 afterward. What about after that?
Montana – All flavored juice, nicotine or THC, was introduced to be banned for 120 days on Oct 9th, but has been blocked by the court. Who will win out in this scenario in the end?
Washington – Oct 9th, another flavor ban came into effect in the state. Another 120 days.
(Parts of) California – San Francisco legislated a total e-cig ban, beginning in 2020. Los Angeles is eyeing up similar legislation, and considering the majority of California's population lives in these two cities – that's close to a state ban.
The Reversal isn't Conclusive
Our key message here is this: Whether or not you're a Trump supporter, love him or hate him, the administration has not been firm or consistent on this issue. So why would they start now? How can we trust them at this point? The same Trump that 61 days before the reversal said their intention was to “clear the market of flavored e-cigarettes”? We maybe shouldn't be jumping with joy just yet. After all, even at this stage, the reversal has been cemented by “we're having a meeting”. Is that conclusive? Perhaps not. However, it's a step in the right direction.
We should take the little victories where we can, for sure. This is definitely one of those moments. Perhaps it’s even a huge victory. Time is yet to tell on that. There are some other benefits that stem from this movement and the u-turn the President and his administration has (currently) taken.
It shows that people power works. ‘We Vape We Vote' alongside other grassroots organizations, have shown that a movement still has sway with the Goliath that is the United States government.
It shows that voting is still effective. Assuming the various protest groups of vapers took it as seriously as they proclaimed on the streets, the true influence over legislation is still the democratic one. All leaders should be held accountable by the voters in a democracy, and so far, this is proving to be true.
It shows social media can be a force for good. The #wevapewevote demonstrated the power in connectivity among like-minded people. Like many grassroots movements, they are only asking for access to (an arguably) basic right. After all, isn't it a right, if not a moral good, to be able to buy and sell a life-giving product to someone as an alternative to a more dangerous one?
It shows how important vaping is to millions of people. Vaping is not a niche activity. It’s a lifestyle. A life changing product, improving the vitality of people the nation (and the world) over.
We have a journey ahead to go yet, particularly on the state level. But a bit of optimism is warranted this week. A sight of hope on the horizon.