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Vapers Fear Stricter Regulation


There's been a lot of speculation about whether President Trump will follow through on his pledge to impose sweeping regulations on e-cigarettes. Yesterday, he met with advocates for and against restrictions. And as NPR's Merrit Kennedy reports, the threat of regulation has become a political issue for some people who vape.

MERRIT KENNEDY, BYLINE: At the White House meeting Friday, vaping advocates and opponents seemed to agree on one thing - the need for an age limit.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Age limit of 21.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Absolutely. Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Twenty one - age limit 21.

KENNEDY: And the most divisive issue is what to do about flavors. In September, Trump said he was planning to ban most flavored e-cigarettes. And advocates for the move say it would make them less appealing to kids. Here's Sally Goza, the president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

SALLY GOZA: We are worried that if we lead one flavor on the market, even menthol, that the children will go to that.

KENNEDY: Trump didn't commit to banning flavors at Friday's meeting, and there are reports that he's walking back that idea. But the threat of stricter regulation has prompted the vaping community to get organized. At a recent protest outside the White House, sweet-smelling vapor wafted through the air. Many of the protesters are supporters of the president, some of them wearing red hats that say, make America vape again.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: You know what you are? You're a political movement.

KENNEDY: Their rallying cry - we vape. We vote.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) We vape. We vote. We vape.

KENNEDY: Critics of the industry say that companies selling dessert and fruity flavors are trying to get kids hooked on vaping. But many former adult smokers also use the non-tobacco flavors, saying that's what helped them quit cigarettes.

RY DUNCAN: Without that enjoyment, I wouldn't have been able to put down my 13-year habit.

KENNEDY: Ry Duncan (ph) from Cleveland is carrying a sign that says flavors save lives. He says he vapes mainly vanilla dessert flavors, and he fears what will happen to him if those are banned.

DUNCAN: I'm scared I might end up smoking again.

KENNEDY: The spate of recent lung injury cases, including at least 47 deaths, are primarily linked to products containing THC and not nicotine. Gregory Conley from the American Vaping Association says his community is concerned that the outbreak may lead the government to bluntly impose restrictions on the entire industry and not just the likely culprits without considering the negative side effects.

GREGORY CONLEY: This country is in the middle of a moral panic on vaping, and when you're in the middle of a moral panic, good public health policy rarely flows out of that.

KENNEDY: Medical experts say that while the long-term effects of vaping are not known, in the short term, the devices are almost surely less harmful than cigarettes. Conley says vapers feel misunderstood, and many are likely going to vote based on what Trump does about the flavors.

CONLEY: Smokers for years have been told, you're bad people. You should be ashamed of yourself. Vapers - they're not ashamed to have quit smoking. That's why they are such a potent political force.

KENNEDY: Meg Fletcher (ph), who drove in from Baltimore, says switching from cigarettes to vaping a year ago was the best decision she ever made. And she's disappointed by possible restrictions on vaping, even from a president she admires.

MEG FLETCHER: I really love Trump. I really do. But if they were to do this and take our rights away, I might not vote for him.

KENNEDY: She's not alone. A recent poll funded by a vaping trade group found that 8 out of 10 vapers in battleground states say they're likely to vote for or against a candidate based solely on what they plan to do about vaping.

Merrit Kennedy, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.