More than half the Democratic presidential candidates set to appear on this month’s debate stage have accepted donations from employees of embattled electronic cigarette and vaping giant, Juul, as the Trump administration moves toward a ban on the products.
Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Andrew Yang, and Bernie Sanders’s 2020 White House campaigns have accepted cash from Juul Labs Inc. employees since the start of the year, amounting to more than $26,000, according to campaign finance reports.
The Trump administration this week is expected to slap a ban on the sale of vaping flavors other than tobacco and menthol, though some members of Trump’s team have talked about exempting vape shops. The executive action, previewed since September, is in response to a spike in nicotine consumption by young people, mostly first-time nicotine users, and vaping-related illnesses.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Thursday that vaping was linked to 2,051 illnesses nationwide, 40 of which resulted in death. In October, the national public health institute stressed that consumers should “particularly” avoid products with THC, the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana that causes a high.
Juul last month stopped selling fruit flavors following criticism of its role in encouraging the teen vaping epidemic, having suspended all broadcast, print, and digital advertising in September. Also, in October, the full House passed a bill that would require mail couriers to check IDs when they deliver e-cigarettes bought online.
Harris has received $12,300 from Juul staff, including executives, so far this cycle, such as $2,000 from former District of Columbia Deputy Mayor Courtney Snowden, who left local government in 2018 to become a top lobbyist for the industry heavyweight. Harris, of California, is the San Francisco-based firm’s home state senator.
Buttigieg has been given $9,400; Biden, $2,800; Warren, $925; Yang, $583.43, and Sanders, $100. Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, and Tom Steyer haven’t got any Juul donors on their books, a Washington Examiner analysis found.
None of the candidates’ teams responded to the Washington Examiner’s requests for comment, despite some of them being on the record against Juul.
Buttigieg slammed “Big Tobacco” at MSNBC’s Climate Forum 2020 event in September when asked about the government’s role in taking legal action against companies that have “lied to us.” The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said, “tobacco is becoming a better and better metaphor for what’s going on here.”
“Basically, there’s bad news, they know it, and they cultivate doubt in order to delay the inevitable. And while that delay goes on, people suffer,” he said. “And so, I do think we need to develop an understanding of liability as we would in any other kind of harm. Holds bad actors accountable for malfeasance, deception, and harm.”
Yang told the Washington Examiner this week he agreed with Trump’s push to police companies like Juul.
“I think that we are late to the game in regulating vaping at this point because it is causing illness and injuries and even deaths among minors in particular,” the entrepreneur said. “So, I agree that we’re headed in the right direction if we’re taking steps. It is a bit overdue.”
Warren is Juul’s other vocal opponent running in the Democratic primary. The Massachusetts senator signed onto a letter in April demanding the company disclose to Congress its marketing practice after concerns it was targeting young people and information on its merger with Altria. Altria Group, Inc., which produces Marlboro cigarettes, now owns a minority stake of 35% in Juul.
“While you and your investors may be perfectly content with hooking an entire new generation of children on your tobacco products in order to increase your profit margins, we will not rest until your dangerous products are out of the hands of our nation’s children,” the senators wrote.
While California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein joined Warren in signing the letter, Harris did not.