On Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced from the Oval Office that his administration will ban flavored vaping products from the market. This move is evidently linked to recent reports of at least six deaths and several hundred hospitalizations from lung illnesses connected to vaping. Health experts have also been concerned with teenagers who never smoked getting addicted to the nicotine in e-cigarettes, and U.S. health officials have labeled teen vaping an "epidemic."
Trump cited need for "very strong action" on vaping because of the "harm to innocent children." He said to reporters: "We can't allow people to get sick and we can't have our youth be so affected….people are dying with vaping so we're looking at it very closely."
“The Trump Administration is making it clear that we intend to clear the market of flavored e-cigarettes to reverse the deeply concerning epidemic of youth e-cigarette use that is impacting children, families, schools and communities,” Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.
You can argue that this ban is not a good idea. E-cigarettes might help people stop smoking combustible cigarettes, which are demonstrably deadly. It's also possible that this ban would just drive people to seek black-market flavored e-cig chemicals, which may be the cause of the vaping-related illnesses in the first place.
But beyond those objections, it's hard not to read these comments about the imperative to help innocent people getting sick and dying and think of how the administration turns a blind eye to another, much more obvious and deadly health crisis in the U.S.: gun violence.
Fifty-three people died from mass shootings in August alone and there have been more than 9,000 gun deaths so far in 2019. Still, the Trump administration, willing to act fast when it comes to mango-flavored vaping liquid, has backed away several times from the idea of passing universal background checks on gun purchases. Trump wrote in a 2000 book that he supported an assault weapons ban but hasn't embraced the idea in office. The Odessa, Texas, shooter who killed seven people in August and wounded 22 others had previously failed a background check and purchased the AR-style rifle used in the attack through a private sale, avoiding a background check.
The irony of Trump's concern about vaping deaths was not lost on Shannon Watts, the founder of gun control group Moms Demand Action. She wrote on Twitter: "One hundred Americans are shot and killed every day in America. At least seven of them are children or teens. I realize the tobacco lobby didn’t give your campaign $30 million like the NRA did, but gun violence is a national crisis."
"While I agree there is a vaping issue, compared to the burden of disease of firearm-related injury and death, it’s simply not comparable,” Joseph Sakran, a trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins University and gun violence survivor, told VICE. “On average, 51 young people die or are injured daily from firearms. The inaction we have seen is not without consequence. We have veterans coming home from battlefields only to be killed on the streets of America by gun violence. We have citizens survive one mass shooting only to be killed in another. And we have perpetrators that fail a background check only to purchase a firearm through other private means and commit senseless tragedies like we have seen in Odessa. The American people deserve better.”
The gun control measures demanded by activists like Watts would require legislation, unlike Trump's vaping bans. That might seem like a tall order in an era of congressional gridlock and polarization, but polls have found that a majority of voters, even many Republicans, support gun control measures, particularly expanded background checks to cover private sales. “[This] is a public health emergency that requires a comprehensive plan supported at the highest levels of leadership in this country,” Sakran said. Yet Trump—along with other GOP leaders—continues to waffle on the issue.
In the oval office Wednesday, a reporter asked Trump what he was prepared to announce on background checks. He said he'd spoken to Senators Pat Toomey, Chris Murphy, and Joe Manchin before the meeting and that they were working together "to see if we can come up with something that's acceptable to everybody. It's a subject that's been going on for decades." When pressed if he was willing to put background checks on all private gun sales he said: "We're going to take a look at a lot of different things…There are a lot of things under discussion. Some things will never happen…and very meaningful things can happen. We'll see what happens."
In other words: Don't hold your breath.
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