On a frigid Saturday afternoon, the venom toward President Trump was as thick as the vapor clouds. Hundreds of members of the vaping community gathered in Elliptical Park in Washington, DC, USA, to protest an impending vape flavors ban announced by President Donald Trump, taking hits off their elaborate hardware while clutching signs reading "Make America vape again," or "Vape kills as Epstein killed himself." The crowd frequently broke into chants of the catchphrase of the afternoon: "We vape, we vote."
"Keep it going! Make him hear it!," James Jarvis of the Ohio Vapor Trade Association urged from onstage, referring to President Trump in the White House directly behind the protesters.
The e-cigarette industry has taken a hit in recent months due to a mysterious, lung-related ailment sweeping the country that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has linked to vaping.
To date, more than 2,000 have fallen ill and 40 people have died from an e-cigarette or vaping-related lung injury, or EVALI. For a product that was supposed to be a harmless alternative, the health crisis is nonetheless alarming.
In response to the epidemic, as well as rapidly rising rates of teenagers using e-cigarettes, President Trump announced in September that the FDA planned to implement a federal ban on all flavors except for mint and menthol. On Friday, he revealed more details about the legislation, telling reporters that the FDA planned to raise the vaping age to "21 or so" and promising to unveil it next week.
For those in the vaping community, the ban "took everybody by shock, by storm. It,s almost like a bad dream."
The vast majority of people at the rally were vaping shop owners and industry advocates whose businesses had been significantly impacted by the events of the past few months. All of the vaping business owners said that their sales had been virtually decimated by the past three months of negative media coverage, even if they did not operate in states that had passed flavor bans.
Many at the rally balked at the suggestion that flavors like mango, mint, and cucumber lead to teenagers and kids vaping, which is often cited as the justification for banning flavors.
The FDA has accused the e-cigarette company JUUL in particular of marketing to teens by launching aggressive ad campaigns on Instagram, prompting JUUL to shut down all of its advertising and discontinuing sales of many of its flavored pods.
Members of the vaping community argued that young people are vaping not because of fruit flavors, but because of the extremely high nicotine content of JUUL pods.
Many of the attendees expressed their outrage toward the announcement of Trump's ban, which they interpreted as a fundamental misunderstanding of what they believed was driving the vaping epidemic: vitamin E acetate, an additive in many black-market THC cartridges.
On Friday, CDC deputy director Dr. Anne Schuchat reported that vitamin E acetate had been identified as a "very strong culprit" in the lung injury epidemic and that 86% of lung injury patients had reported vaping THC cartridges.
Many of the vaping industry professionals at the rally did not make the argument that vaping is harmless, or indeed healthy. Though there is research to indicate that e-cigarette users are also more likely to develop long-term vaping habits and may also be more likely to relapse.
According to many in attendance at the rally, a potential flavors ban could also yield large-scale political implications, and said they would no longer vote for Trump in 2020 should pass the flavors ban.
Even for those who did not support Trump prior to his announcement of the ban, or who did not vote in the election at all, the announcement of a federal vaping ban served as something of an engine for their politicization.
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