Juul Labs made every effort to consolidate his status in Washington. The Silicon Valley start-up sought to find friends in the capital of the country. It hired senior White House officials in contact with President Trump and the first family. It sent politically-linked officials to the West Wing to praise its products. In both parties a lot of money was spent on the legislature.
But last week, the e-cigarette giant, along with the rest of the vaping industry, was surprised when President Trump took drastic action and banned almost all flavored vaping products. "We can not let our youth be so affected," he told the Oval Office.
The scope of the announcement stunned most of the industry, even big companies such as Juul, who have carefully cultivated relationships with policymakers to gain influence. But lately, these companies have also been cut off from a series of reports of teenage e-cigarette use and a mysterious lung disease related to Vaping ̵
Leading Juul has sent lobbyists to speak with Hill Republicans but has not yet decided whether to challenge the ban on mint and menthol e-cigarettes, the two largest lenders. The company could argue that it keeps its menthol flavor on the market because it's legal for cigarettes and it wants to provide smokers with an alternative to menthol cigarettes, a Juul official said.
"You're still actively talking to people to help shape what's happening," said a former high-ranking government official who had recently spoken to Juul lobbyists. "The fight they are leading is all about mint and menthol to keep him."
Ironically, the company accused several years ago of having ignited the underage Vaping epidemic could benefit in the long term from the ban, because for smaller competitors, the ban will be even tougher, some experts say. The tobacco giant Altria is involved with about 35 percent of Juul.
Smaller companies such as the Vapor Technology Association said many of their members could not survive such a ban and swear a fight. The group plans to send hundreds of vaping advocates to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to express their anger.
"We will make it clear that this is the wrong approach and that this will literally limit an entire industry that has grown to challenge the tobacco industry with 166,000 jobs, and these are mostly small businesses," said Tony Abboud, Managing Director of the Trading Group.
Vaping advocates and consumers bombard the White House and Congressmen meanwhile Greg Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, complained on Twitter and started petitioning to protest the ban.
Some of them were encouraged by a Friday night Trump tweet, which suggested that vaping could actually be a good alternative to cigarettes, and the ban was simply to "make sure that this alternative is SAFE for ALL!" And Keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of children.
A senior White House official said the tweet reflected the president Some advocates were upset over the ban and did not represent a political turnaround.
"Outrage in public"
Concentrated despite their highly deregulatory approach The Trump Government Has Been Extensively Investigating on E-Cigarettes for More Than a Year As the then FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb saw data showing a 78 percent rise in high school e-cigarettes – a product supposedly intended to help adult smokers to quit smoking.
"E-cigarettes have become almost ubiquitous and dangerous. Trend among teenagers, "he said.
Over the next few months, Gottlieb met with e-cigarette manufacturers and urged them to take action to reduce the use of their products by minors and threaten sales restrictions and stricter regulations.
Around the time he announced his departure in March, he summoned the bosses of Juul and Altria to a meeting where he accused them of failing to comply with obligations to suppress the use of teenagers. He also said that the companies were trying to undermine the FDA by turning to the White House, where businesses were listening, they said.
Juul said it had supported guidelines for limiting youth violence, but declined to comment on this meeting. Altria spokesman David Sutton said he has consistently supported the government's efforts to reduce the fumes of teenagers.
On the way to the door, Gottlieb also proposed removing the sales restrictions – but no ban. Secretary of Health and Welfare, Alex Azar, promised to continue the anti-youth vaping agenda and suggested that officials could consider tougher measures if the youth vaping rate continues to increase 380 people in 36 States ill and resulted in seven deaths. According to health officials and doctors, many of the victims have used illegal marijuana products. But officials were unable to clearly exclude nicotine products, and gave vaping enemies new ammunition to urge a crackdown.
Melania Trump also stated that high-ranking White House officials and Ivanka Trump were concerned about e-cigarettes.
Some White House advisers and political advisers were also worried that the vaping problem could become a campaign issue for 2020.
"Juul has caused more public outrage in a shorter time than any other company can imagine," said Matt Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "If you hunt for white middle-class kids, Republicans or Democrats, you'll upset a lot of people."
As the number of these diseases increased, Azar got new data just after Labor Day, showing a peak of 27.5 percent in 2019, students said they had consumed e-cigarettes in the last 30 days, after 20 , 8 percent in the previous year – the second big jump in two years. The data also pointed to the growing popularity of mint and menthol e-cigarettes.
Azar and other high-ranking government officials, including the White House adviser, Kellyanne Conway, domestic affairs chief Joe Grogan, incumbent FDA commissioner Norman "Ned" Sharpless, and adviser Ivanka Trump had two meetings on the subject without Trump, including one on 9 September.
The same day, Melania Trump tweeted that she was "deeply concerned about the growing epidemic of e-cigarette use among our children."
Officials kept the information under control and vigorously avoided leaks that would spur lobbyists to action.
On September 11, Trump was offered a range of options ranging from doing nothing to removing almost all the steaming flavors of the market. The president, who had previously failed to comment on vaping, had also read stories about people who died of a mysterious lung disease, white house officials say. Given the ever-worsening numbers of juvenile steam generators and deadly diseases that might be involved in steam production, he opted for the hardest route.
Last week's policy banned the sale of almost all flavored e-cigarettes – mint and menthol, as well as sweet and fruity – in stores and online. The products may not be re-marketed until they have been approved by the FDA. Excluded are only vape with tobacco flavor.
Officials said the guidelines would be published in a few weeks and come into effect 30 days later. Flavored products would have to come off the shelves. Manufacturers may seek approval from the FDA to get their products back on the market, but it is far from clear that they would be successful. These manufacturers already had a deadline of May 2020 for such applications, which should, inter alia, show whether the product reduces the likelihood that adults would smoke normal cigarettes and not induce young people to smoke.
Plan that companies could have kept their products on the market for some time while the agency was considering approval.
"The only players left are the largest companies, which are essentially the tobacco companies." said Michael Siegel, professor of community health sciences at Boston University. "These are the only companies that have the resources for the applications required by the FDA. I am sure that they are already bringing these applications together. "
Juul said it supports" the need for more aggressive, category-wide action on flavored products "and will comply with the final FDA directive as soon as it enters into force
This does not mean that Juul watchers say they will not try will change the policy before it is completed.
Last year, under growing pressure from the FDA, Juul voluntarily stopped selling all the flavors except mint, menthol and mint in retail outlets – and then watched as competitors and counterfeiters filled the void with their own sweet and fruity products. Since then, according to Juul, it has been eager for the government to crack down on these products in order to create a level playing field and curb youth hostility.
Other major manufacturers of e-cigarettes may be reluctant to go head-on against the government. also. But they will almost certainly accelerate FDA filings to try to re-launch e-cigarettes with a soon-to-be ban.
The survival of the greatest?
If any company could be positioned for navigation or moderate politics, it would be Juul. Among his staff and consultants is a who-is-who of Trump World, including Josh Raffel, former spokesman for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump; Johnny DeStefano, former Advisor to the President; Rebecca Propp, former Media Relations Director for Vice President Pence; and Tevi Troy, who worked in the George W. Bush Administration with Alex Azar, the current Secretary of Health and Human Services.
DeStefano, who is a Juul adviser, remains in contact with the officials of the election campaign and the White House, although he is not allowed to use them for Juul under the White House's code of ethics. The other former Trump administration officials are not allowed to contact their former White House counterparts on behalf of Juul.
In 2017, the start-up had only two lobbyists. Now it has at least ten times that number, including former employee of Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan and John Boehner. The company has already spent nearly $ 2 million on lobbying in the first two quarters of this year, after $ 1.64 million for the full year.
The Altria Group's political action committee has donated $ 500,000 to Trump's founding committee, an important contribution to Pence's "Great America" committee. Jeff Miller, who works closely with Pence, was commissioned to lobby on tobacco and e-cigarette issues. Miller has already announced that he has bundled more than $ 1 million in contributions to the Trump 2020 campaign.
Despite this huge investment, Gottlieb, the former FDA commissioner, said he did not find Juul very effective.
used a shotgun approach to fix this problem, "he said in a recent interview. "They were neither purposeful nor effective in what they did."
He said that the company's efforts harmed the entire industry.
Other e-cigarette companies that have links to deep-pocket tobacco companies include Vuse from tobacco giant Reynolds American and Swisher International, a cigar maker that also sells e-cigarettes. Both are represented by Brian Ballard, an experienced Florida lobbyist who represented Trump's business there and helped shape the 2016 presidential campaign.
Reynolds has been paying Ballard's $ 1.1 million to lobby organizations since 2017, including Congress, the White House, HHS, and Vice President Swisher's office, which hired Ballard in April, to date paid $ 60,000 to the firm, as recorded records. Reynolds American PAC donated $ 15,000 to committees for the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee in 2016.
While lobbyists may not have to pinpoint exactly how much they spend on specific topics, most of the money would probably have been spent working on vaping issues – including Trump's proposal in March for $ 100 million a year in user fees for the e-cigarette industry and bills related to age restrictions.
Philip Morris International, for example, received FDA clearance in April to market its "Heat-Not-Burn" tobacco product called IQOS in the US. However, the agency has not yet decided whether the company can call it "Modified Risk Tobacco Product" – safer than a cigarette. The company spent $ 2.1 million on lobbying in the third quarter of last year.
Some other companies said lobbying also supports laws that would increase the legal age for smoking and vaping to 21 years.
"We prefer clean, also known as simple bills, that do that," said Altria spokesman Sutton.
Anu Narayanswamy contributed to this report.