Va­p­ing group co­zies to Trump

Lob­by­ing meet­ings held at ho­tel; Juul added ex-WH staff

The Morning Call - - BUSINESS CYCLE - By Bernard Con­don

NEW YORK — Amer­ica’s va­p­ing in­dus­try has in re­cent years taken its fight to fend off reg­u­la­tion di­rectly to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s doorstep, with a lob­by­ing group twice book­ing an­nual meet­ings at his Wash­ing­ton ho­tel and e-cig­a­rette maker Juul hir­ing two of his for­mer White House of­fi­cials.

In 2017 and 2018, the Va­por Tech­nol­ogy As­so­ci­a­tion met at Trump’s ho­tel to strate­gize how to lobby the ad­min­is­tra­tion, with a Repub­li­can law­maker at one con­fer­ence ad­vis­ing it to em­pha­size jobs created by the grow­ing in­dus­try and how reg­u­la­tion could dev­as­tate hun­dreds of small va­p­ing busi­nesses.

An in­ten­sive, mul­ti­mil­lion­dol­lar lob­by­ing ef­fort by the in­dus­try in the last two years alone had largely been suc­cess­ful, un­til an out­cry over hun­dreds of breath­ing prob­lems and at least six deaths among users of e-cig­a­rettes and sim­i­lar de­vices led the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to crack down Wed­nes­day with a pro­posal to ban fla­vored eci­garettes pop­u­lar with teens.

Ethics ex­perts point to va­p­ing as a glar­ing ex­am­ple of what they were wor­ried about from the mo­ment Trump took of­fice — an in­dus­try seek­ing to shape gov­ern­ment pol­icy while putting money in the pres­i­dent’s pocket by hold­ing events, book­ing rooms and pay­ing for food at one of his prop­er­ties.

“Whether it is for­eign gov­ern­ments or e-cig­a­rette com­pa­nies, there is a per­cep­tion that stay­ing at a Trump ho­tel ben­e­fits the pa­tron in some way,” said Matthew San­der­son, a for­mer le­gal ad­viser to sev­eral Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns. “This cuts to the heart of why there are con­cerns about the pres­i­dent hav­ing ac­tive busi­ness in­ter­ests.”

The Va­por Tech­nol­ogy As­so­ci­a­tion did not re­ply to an email and phone re­quest for com­ment on its lob­by­ing ef­forts but told The As­so­ci­ated Press last year that it booked Trump’s ho­tel for bud­get rea­sons and its prox­im­ity to Capi­tol Hill. This year’s meet­ing will be held next week at Wash­ing­ton’s Ho­tel Fair­mont.

As for Trump’s pro­posed ban, the group said in a state­ment that there was no ev­i­dence that va­p­ing is to blame for re­cent cases of lung ill­ness and urged the pres­i­dent to re­verse course be­fore “small busi­nesses around the coun­try are forced to close their doors, and tens of thou­sands of peo­ple are laid off.”

An­tic­i­pat­ing such crit­i­cism, Trump ap­peared to walk a line be­tween ac­knowl­edg­ing the wealth created by the bur­geon­ing in­dus­try and the grow­ing health dan­gers.

“They’ve be­come very rich com­pa­nies very fast. The whole thing with va­p­ing is ... it’s been very prof­itable,” Trump said. “But we can’t al­low peo­ple to get sick, and we can’t have our youth to be so af­fected.”

The Va­por Tech­nol­ogy As­so­ci­a­tion has spent $678,000 on fed­eral cam­paigns in the past three years, with Juul pitch­ing in $3.7 mil­lion more.

Last year, Juul hired for­mer Trump com­mu­ni­ca­tions aide Josh Raf­fel and, ear­lier this year, Johnny DeSte­fano, who served as coun­selor to the pres­i­dent.

Among those lob­by­ing on Juul’s be­half are Jim Esquea, who worked dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion as an as­sis­tant sec­re­tary at the De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, and Ted McCann, who was a top pol­icy aide to for­mer House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The 2017 va­p­ing con­fer­ence at the Trump In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel in Wash­ing­ton fea­tured a key­note ad­dress from Sen. Ron John­son, a Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can push­ing the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion to pull back on a 2016 rule re­quir­ing e-cig­a­rette mak­ers get fed­eral ap­proval.

Ten days later, the FDA an­nounced that man­u­fac­tur­ers of e-cig­a­rettes and cigars al­ready on the mar­ket would get a re­prieve of four years — since changed to three years — be­fore they would be re­quired to get agency ap­proval.

Tony Ab­boud, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Va­por Tech­nol­ogy As­so­ci­a­tion, told the AP last year that it was “overly sim­plis­tic” to sug­gest the event at Trump’s ho­tel had any­thing to do with the FDA de­lay.

In June last year, the group held a sec­ond two-day con­fer­ence at Trump’s Wash­ing­ton ho­tel, with speak­ers lined up to talk about such top­ics as “end­ing im­proper mar­ket­ing,” “re­claim­ing the pub­lic health nar­ra­tive” and “de­fend­ing fla­vors.”

The key­note speaker, thenRepub­li­can U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello of Penn­syl­va­nia, was quoted by the busi­ness magazine Fast Com­pany as say­ing that the in­dus­try needed to talk about jobs if they hoped to fight off reg­u­la­tion.

“If there’s one thing elected of­fi­cials want to be on the right side of, it’s job cre­ation,” Costello said. “Lead with: im­proved pub­lic health out­comes from those switch­ing, and then the eco­nomic im­pact. How many jobs will this leg­is­la­tion cost? How many small busi­nesses will close? That’s what leg­is­la­tors need to know.”

ALEX BRAN­DON/AP 2016

A lob­by­ing group for the va­p­ing in­dus­try a lob­by­ing group twice booked an­nual meet­ings at Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Wash­ing­ton ho­tel.

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