3 Thursday, September 12, 2019 07:09

Vaping group plotted lobbying efforts at Trump's DC hotel

Americas vaping industry has in recent years taken its fight to fend off regulation directly to President Donald Trumps 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 Trumps 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, multimillion-dollar 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 e-cigarettes 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 presidents 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 Trumps hotel for budget reasons and its proximity to Capitol Hill.

This years meeting will be held next week at Washingtons Hotel Fairmont.As for Trumps 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 Wednesday between acknowledging the wealth created by the burgeoning industry and the growing health dangers.Theyve become very rich companies very fast. The whole thing with vaping is ... its been very profitable, Trump said. But we cant allow people to get sick, and we cant 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 Juuls behalf are Jim Esquea, who worked during the Obama administration as an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services,.


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