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Trump’s brief out-of-character anti-vaping stance was a mystery — but he flip-flopped back to form

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Terry H. Schwadron
Terry H. Schwadron

The momentary question upon hearing that Donald Trump’s plan to ban flavored vapes had gone up, well, in smoke was only under which category of Trump strangeness to file this new failed act of governance.

Was it another example of Trump’s hypocrisy of advocating one thing, only to do another? Was it another opportunity to suppress a move for public health in favor of perceived personal political advancement? Was it an actual defense of new jobs in the vaping industry over the effects that these jobs have on the vastly growing numbers of new young smokers? Was it another case of Trump surprising his own people by making the announcement on Twitter rather than actually talking to his own administrative staff?

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Unfortunately, it was all of the above.

It had been odd enough that Trump had expressed interest at all in such a selfless proposal. Why should he be concerning himself with a public health issue at all?

It had been odd enough that Trump had expressed interest at all in such a selfless proposal. Why should he be concerning himself with a public health issue at all? Word from the White House had been that Trump was pushed by wife Melania and daughter Ivanka to care and an acknowledgment that he and Melania had told their son, Barron, 13, not to vape.

“We haven’t told him anything, except ‘don’t vape’,” Trump said. “Don’t vape. We don’t like vaping. I don’t like vaping.”

Of course, that was eons ago, in September.

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Listening to protests?

Since then, Trump said he has seen street protests among pro-vapers whose signs remind that they vote, and some pressuring both from the vaping industry and his own political re-election campaign, which noted that a good number of vapers live in states where the next election vote is expected to be close.

First of all, what? He noticed street protests? There are lots more where those came from and on topics with wider issues at hand, from women’s rights to the future of the planet. If he can actually see a protest message, maybe we should be revisiting some of those topics. Women vote too, as well as people who believe in education and science, the environment and ethics in daily life.

Up until the news that he was walking away from any vaping ban, I had understood that the issue was whether to include menthol among flavors like bubble-gum and strawberry meant to appeal to younger would-be smokers.

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Indeed, as the numbers of severe lung injuries have continued to build over the last few months, attributable to vaping THC elements, the acceptance of some kind of ban for vaping has been deepening as well. At last count, hospitals around the country have reported more than 2,000 people to be hospitalized, with more than 40 deaths, all being attributed to vaping.

While awaiting federal action, several states have moved independently to ban flavored e-cigarettes, and Juul Labs, the largest seller of these products, has taken most flavors off the market in anticipation of regulation. Juul said mint-flavored pods made up about 70% of sales, menthol about 10%, and two sweet flavors the other 20%.

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The federal Department of Health and Human Services and Secretary Alex Azar were reported to be taking a leading role in the proposed ban out of public health concerns, but Trump canceled a press conference on the issue by Azar.

It’s No Surprise

Of course, this issue reversal smacks of the guns issue, which is a prime public health topic. After a few of the endless school shootings, Trump said he would back limited gun background checks and expanded mental health laws only to back off them as lobbyists like the National Rifle Association put on the pressure for the abandonment of such controls.

And, even as Trump has the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid rolling out regular suggestions for cutting services or pressing for small changes in health care, the Trump Justice Department is a willing hand in the continuing Texas court case to eliminate Obamacare altogether.

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Trump talks of clean water achievements as more cities report problems with failing lead pipes dripping poison into drinking water, he fights with California about state regulations that are stronger than federal rules about air pollution, and his continuing anti-environment de-regulation campaign eliminates public protections to give industry more latitude in rule-setting.

It is distressing to see, but now habitual. Trump’s view of government has little to do with public health or even public service unless it aligns with his personal political outlook.

How about Make America Healthy Again rather than Let America Vape.

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