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In Iowa this week, Democrat Pete Buttigieg signaled that if elected, he would place tighter regulations on the nicotine vapor industry, stating that “the burden has to be” on the vapor industry to prove that e-cigarettes and nicotine vapor products are safe, during a town hall in Winterset, Iowa on Monday. He went on to mischaracterize the value and intended purpose of products that are specifically flavored in nature and to blame nicotine products for recent vaping-related illnesses. 

Here’s the key exchange:

Voter: “So, in 2019, more than 27% of high school students used an e-cigarette. How would you address this epidemic as it pertains to youth and young people?”

Buttigieg: “So, what we are seeing is e-cigarettes being marketed and sold to young people despite companies telling us otherwise. The way this was marketed and sold to the country is that it can be used for harm reduction. It can get people off smoking combustion cigarettes and into something that might be less dangerous than cigarettes. But that doesn’t make them safe in their own right, and that doesn’t answer why you would target them for people who aren’t smokers at all. And I believe the burden has to be on these companies to demonstrate that they are not causing harm rather than on regulators to demonstrate that they are.

This means taking action on these flavored e-cigarette products that are clearly targeted towards children and making sure that we have a much higher bar for them demonstrating that they’re not causing harm because we’re seeing all these horrifying cases of people coming to harm because they use this product.

And it is why, whether its specific to e-cigarettes or whether its more generally when it comes to the way that we regulate food and drug and other products in this country that we have regulators who actually believe in protecting consumers rather than being beholden to those whose profits are at stake.”

Not only does Buttigieg signal that he would impose rules more onerous than those recently implemented by the Trump administration, but he refused to acknowledge the harm reduction potential of a vast majority of vapor products that adults use to quit smoking which are in fact flavored.

Without evidence or context he asserted that e-cigarettes have caused harm to consumers. In fact, Mayor Pete seemed to purposely confuse the harm being inflicted on consumers by black market and illicit THC marijuana products, which have been identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the culprit behind the recent vaping illnesses. Those THC products are generally already illegal in all instances, as opposed to legal nicotine vaping products available in convenience stores, vape shops, and other retail outlets. 

Buttigieg’s comments come less than a week after Elizabeth Warren signaled that she would crack down on legal nicotine vaping if elected and on the heels of Joe Biden also suggesting that he would “eliminate” vaping if elected.

“I don’t care what it does to a small business person who’s selling this stuff. If it is damaging lungs, if it’s causing the kind of damage that is said and that studies not been fully done yet. If it turns out that it is that I would eliminate it,” Biden said.