For the third time this year, the Vapor Technology Association (VTA) is spending a pile of money to get a TV commercial seen by a single viewer: President Trump. VTA has purchased more than $100,000 in airtime on Palm Beach County, Florida TV stations while Trump vacations at his Mar-a-Lago property.
The commercial began running Sunday on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, according to CBS News. The President is considering how to regulate vaping products, and is expected to announce rules focused on flavored products soon.
The TV ads went on the air just a day before the FDA sent new guidance on flavored vaping products to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. The last time OMB considered flavor rules from FDA was the last week of October. VTA responded then by running a Trump-targeted commercial, just as the organization is now. Whether through luck or inside information, VTA has twice managed to land its ads on Trump’s television sets at the very same time his staff reviews a potential flavor ban.
VTA had run another anti-ban commercial a week earlier, in mid-October, targeting Trump with a focused airtime buy on Fox News, including exposure during some of Trump’s favorite programs. That commercial, titled “Promises,” cleverly complimented the President while laying the blame for a job-killing flavor ban on the administrative state that Trump claims to be fighting. The goal was to give the President an easy way to drop the previously announced flavor ban without appearing to flip-flop.
Soon after the second commercial ran on Fox a week later, Trump put the brakes on his flavor ban—with just hours to go. He was apparently shaken by the commercials, and by polling data from Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) and later from a McLaughlin and Associates poll commissioned by VTA.
The second video shown in October is the same one VTA is currently airing in Palm Beach County. Although the ad features two Ohio vaping business owners, Trump is well aware that Florida also has many vape shops and hundreds of thousands of committed vaping consumers.
His 2020 campaign staff has briefed the President on the ATR and VTA poll data, showing how battleground states like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin have enough vapers to easily reverse his close 2016 wins in those states. Trump will have to at least maintain the support he had in the last election to have a chance next year.
A lot has happened between the first airings of the VTA commercials in October and now:
Last week, rumors were rife in Washington that flavor regulations were imminent. ATR’s Paul Blair, a longtime vaping proponent with White House connections, warned vapers to call the White House and to address Trump and 2020 Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale in tweets. Parscale is a believer in the danger angry vapers could pose to the President’s 2020 chances.
The document now being reviewed by OMB staff is presumably the formal version of whatever decision has been made by the administration on the flavor issue. Based on what the President and HHS Sec. Alex Azar said at the White House listening session, they could simply take credit for the new Tobacco 21 law and call it a day, or maybe add an exemption for vape shops in FDA’s enforcement plan.
Or they might think anything less than a ban of all flavors other than tobacco and menthol would cause too much pushback from influential tobacco control groups. It’s a fact that anything the White House doesn’t do will become a target next year and beyond for tobacco control groups and vaping opponents in Congress and in the states.
All vapers can do now is call the White House, send emails, and keep #WeVapeWeVote trending on Twitter. In the future though, the independent industry and the millions of vapers that depend on it will have to become a legitimate political force—capable of threatening congressional careers and rewarding supporters—or continue being tossed to and fro in the political winds.
Smokers created vaping without any help from the tobacco industry or anti-smoking crusaders, and vapers have the right to keep innovating to help themselves. My goal is to provide clear, honest information about the challenges vaping faces from lawmakers, regulators, and brokers of disinformation. I recently joined the CASAA board, but my opinions aren’t necessarily CASAA’s, and vice versa. You can find me on Twitter @whycherrywhy