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October 22, 2019

'We Vape, We Vote': Could vaping bans play a key role in the 2020 elections?

Daily Briefing

    E-cigarettes and vaping have quickly become one of the biggest topics in health care, but federal and state efforts to quell e-cigarette use have mobilized a small but vocal community of vaping adults—a group who, according to some conservative political analysts, could shape the 2020 presidential election, Daily Briefing's Ashley Fuoco Antonelli writes. 

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    Let's take a closer look.

    How vaping became a public health issue

    E-cigarettes, which have been sold in the United States for at least a decade, were originally envisioned as a way to help longtime smokers quit traditional cigarettes (though research on the products' effectiveness as a cessation tool has found mixed results).

    But in recent years, public health and school officials have warned that a new generation of vaping devices are making their way into schools via students. As the Wall Street Journal's Anne Marie Chaker reported in April 2018, the devices—which resemble everyday objects such as flash drives and come in a wide variety of flavors, such as mango and crème brûlée—quickly became a "teen status symbol."

    In response, a growing number of state and federal policymakers have doubled down on efforts to raise the minimum tobacco purchasing age to 21.

    Amid that existing debate, e-cigarette use recently became even more controversial amid reports of a deadly new lung illness that physicians and federal investigators believe are linked to e-cigarettes and vaping.

    The latest news has prompted various states and localities, as well as major retailers, to move to ban sales of flavored e-cigarettes and put in place tighter controls to ensure the products aren't sold to minors. The Trump administration also has taken actions to enforce stricter regulations on e-cigarettes, including a proposed ban on flavored e-cigarettes, which observers say appeal to youth.

    Vaping community pushes backand it might have political implications

    So what does this mean for the elections?

    President Trump's administration is actively proposing rules to crack down on the industry and available products. Axios' Alayna Treene late last month reported that conservative advisers to the White House are warning Trump that those actions could cost him the votes of vaping adults in several key swing states.

    Kaiser Health News' Rachel Bluth and Laruen Weber write that, in recent weeks, "[v]apers across the country [have] swarm[ed] Twitter, the White House comment line, and statehouse steps with the message 'We Vape, We Vote.'" According to Bluth and Weber, the movement—which focuses on supporting candidates who support access to vaping products—could help to "shape the votes of the nation's more than 10 million adult vapers and 20,000 vape shop owners." According to Bluth and Weber, some in the vaping community have framed the new policies as a government overreach that infringe on U.S. residents' freedoms.

    Some conservative analysts worry the new e-cigarette and vaping restrictions could cost President Trump votes in states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, which have large adult vaping populations and which Trump won by narrow margins in 2016.

    For instance, New York Magainze's Matt Stieb noted that Florida could serve as a "test case for the esteemed vape vote." Stieb explained, "Trump won the state by 113,000 votes in 2016, but if just one in eight of the 873,000 state's e-cigarette users of voting age switches parties, Trump could lose 29 electoral votes."

    Reasons to be skeptical

    While the numbers are certainly startling, Treene noted that there's a few reasons to be skeptical that the adult vaping community truly could sway the election results. For one, Treene noted the data being presented to Trump assumes that all adult vapers are already Trump supporters, are single-issue voters, and that Trump's future Democratic challenger would be a more vape-friendly candidate. 

    Morning Consult's Yusra Murad also noted that most Trump voters support his administration's actions on flavored e-cigarettes. A nationwide poll of 2,201 U.S. adults conducted between Sept. 12-15 showed 77% of Trump voters either strongly support or somewhat support banning flavored e-cigarettes.

    Those general public seems similarly open to vaping regulation. For instance, a USA Today/Ipsos poll released this month found 80% of respondents said they support raising the minimum age at which individuals can purchase vaping products to 21, and 52% said they support outright bans on sales of flavored vaping products.

    In a separate poll by YouGov, 52% of respondents said they supported a federal ban on flavored e-cigarettes, and nearly two-thirds of respondents said they were concerned about the safety and health effects of e-cigarette and vaping products, Digital Trends' Ed Oswald writes.

    Oswald writes that two-thirds of respondents to the YouGov poll said a federal ban on flavored e-cigarette sales wouldn't affect whether they support Trump, and 12% of respondents said it would increase their support for Trump. According to Oswald, 9% of respondents said such a ban would decrease their support for Trump.

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