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H.R. 2339, or the Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2019, narrowly passed the House of Representatives in a 213-195 vote. 208 Democrats and five Republicans voted for the bill, with 177 Republicans, 17 Democrats, and one Independent voted against it. Seven Democrats and 15 Republicans did not vote on the bill.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and 126 other cosponsors. One of those cosponsors is Donna Shalala (D-FL), a former Health and Human Services secretary who served in the Bill Clinton administration from 1993 to 2001. Shalala said that she will fight the vaping industry . “Vaping is the public health crisis of the 21st century,” she said.
One notable vote against the bill was Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), who is the co-chair of 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign. Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC), another Biden supporter, did not vote on the bill. Biden strongly came out against vaping in some of his town hall speeches and could very well support more stringent regulation against the vaping industry in line with his Democratic colleagues.
From across the aisle, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) stated that the Democrats’ prohibitions on vape were inconsistent with their stance on marijuana legalization. "Denouncing smoking tobacco in all forms while embracing the (decriminalization) or legalization of marijuana is at best inconsistent when considering long-term health outcomes,'' he said. Rep. Walden voted no on H.R. 2339.
Another vote against the bill was Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY), who voted against the bill because of its effect on African-American smokers and vapers. “White adult smokers would see little difference in their lives after this ban, while black smokers could face even more sweeping harassment from law enforcement if the hint of menthol smoke can justify a stop by a police officer,” she said. African-American smokers and vapers prefer menthol to traditional tobacco flavors. “A ban that targets menthol products but ignores other premium tobacco products unduly burdens the black community,” she added. Clarke’s district is majority African-American.
More Democrats than Republicans bucked their respective party lines on H.R. 2339, leading to more questions than answers. As we previously covered in the State of Vape, we did not know the views on the vaping industry of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), another 2020 presidential candidate serving in Congress. She did not vote on this bill either.
The Administration’s Response
Surprisingly, the White House itself came out in opposition to H.R. 2339 shortly after the vote took place. “The Administration opposes H.R. 2339,” they said. “This bill contains provisions that are unsupported by the available evidence regarding harm reduction and American tobacco use habits and another provision that raises constitutional concerns.”
The release seemed to address many of the concerns raised by vapers, such as T21, the use of vaping as a harm reduction technique, as well as issues surrounding remote retail sales. “Problems surrounding such sales should be addressed through the application of age verification techniques rather than, as this bill would do, prohibiting such sales entirely,” the statement continues.
In conclusion, the statement once again brings up the administration’s proposal to spin tobacco products into its own agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. “The bill takes the wrong approach to tobacco regulation. Rather than continuing to focus on the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, Congress should implement President Trump’s budget proposal to create a new, more directly accountable agency within the Department of Health and Human Services to focus on tobacco regulation. This new agency would be led by a Senate-confirmed Director and would have a greater capacity to respond to the growing complexity of tobacco products and respond effectively to tobacco-related public health concerns.”
The bill is not expected to pass the Senate as it is controlled by Republicans, but should the bill make it to President Trump’s desk, his advisors recommend that he veto the bill.
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