In the wake of six deaths and hundreds of hospitalizations related to consumption of vaping products, President Donald Trump announced a ban on all flavored e-cigarettes on Sept. 11. Trump has instructed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to have stores and distributors prepare to pull all flavored Juul pods and vape fluid from the shelves. The ban’s announcement was met with immediate and powerful blowback from a variety of groups. Vapers, anti-regulatory Trump supporters and even a great deal of individuals with no real connection to vape culture spoke in a unified voice with a simple message to the President: “This ban will not work.”
The logic behind the vape ban is to prevent youth from easily accessing products with the potential to have long-term cardiovascular effects. The major issue with this line of reasoning is that there is a thriving black market for vape products. In most situations in which a prohibition is instituted on a product that has large black market presence, black market sales spike.
A good example of this phenomenon is the marijuana industry in California. California has long been regarded as the weed capital of the country even before the prohibition on marijuana was lifted. The year that marijuana became legal, the black market took enormous hits in sales, as the state’s general lack of weed regulations made it fairly easy to become, and stay, a legitimate dealer. Since then, legislators have added regulation after regulation on the industry, making it more and more difficult to run a legitimate marijuana business. There is now a trend of dealers leaving legitimate businesses to deal on the black market again and consumers seeking black market dealers for lower prices.
The way the vape industry, both legal and illegal, functions has enough similarity to the marijuana market that the assumption that the ban will be ineffective easily holds weight. The ban looks grim, especially when we consider the access younger consumers have to the products, as they must buy them illegally in the first place. Official reports on the vaping crisis also state that black market vapes are the products more closely linked to health issues than legal alternatives. In light of these facts, it is foolish to usher consumers, especially the youth, toward the black market with the installment of a ban.
Trump’s plan is not only destined to be ineffective, it is politically half-witted. While foolish decisions are a hallmark of the Trump presidency, this ban is a betrayal of one of the qualities his base finds most attractive. A sizable portion of Trump’s base values him because of his anti-regulatory stances. As he pours another regulation over the market, they may turn against him, possibly not voting or voting third party. Another more obvious group that this ban is certain to upset is vapers. There are a sizeable number of states that Trump narrowly won in 2016, in which the number of vapers outstrips the number of votes Trump won by. Not all of those vapers voted for him of course, and many may not have voted at all, but Trump has a tough race ahead of him regardless of who his opponent is, and he would be a fool to make such a major political misstep.
Another hollow part of Trump’s ban is that it does not seek to remove flavored cigarettes and cigars from the market. Even if the ban was successful and youth were unable to get their hands on flavored vape products, it is quite possible that they would turn to flavored cigarettes, a much more harmful alternative. Overall it seems that Trump’s vaping ban will be, at best, ineffective. At its worst, the ban could be dangerous for the nation’s children and Trump’s political campaign.