Kentucky state senator taken aback by ‘shoutfest’ in White House between electronic-cigarette interests and their foes

State Sen. Julie Raque Adams speaks in the White House Nov. 22 as President Trump and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar listen. (Image from White House video, via WDRB-TV)

A Kentucky state senator witnessed what one report called a “shoutfest” in a White House meeting hosted by President Trump between lobbyists for health interests and those for electronic cigarettes.

Sen. Julie Raque Adams, a Republican from Louisville, “says she was taken aback by the lack of decorum shown by vaping industry executives,” reports Joe Sonka of the Courier Journal.

“There was a lot of passion in that room,” Adams told Sonka. “Frankfort is tamer than that meeting was.”
Trump said in September that he would ban all e-cigarette flavors except tobacco and menthol, then backed off in the face of protests from users, retailers and manufacturers.

Adams got a surprise invitation to the Nov. 22 meeting only two days in advance. The White House described it as a roundtable discussion that would likely be private so the two sides could speak frankly, she said.

But soon after she voiced concern that “We have a whole new generation addicted to nicotine,” and said many teenagers don’t know e-cigarettes contain the drug, Trump “suddenly asked if it was OK to allow news media into the room, she said.”

That is not mentioned in the White House’s incomplete transcript of the meeting, which indicates that Adams was the first guest Trump asked to speak.

Adams recounted, “I said beyond anything, we have to look at keeping nicotine out of the hands of teens, because research shows that the sooner they’re introduced to nicotine, they’re more susceptible to become addicted to other substances. It messes with their brain chemistry. So the longer that we can keep nicotine out of the hands of teens, the better it would be for my state.”

Not long after she spoke, “People started getting really loud and talking over each other,” she told Sonka. “And I was really surprised in that setting that there wasn’t a higher level of respect between people.”

Sonka writes, “Adams added that Trump appeared to enjoy the ‘free for all’ to see what was driving the arguments of the different groups but cut in several times to ‘rein them back in.’

“It was interesting to watch [Trump] because he was clearly not disturbed by the back and forth in the banter and the kind of aggressiveness,” Adams told Sonka. “Everybody in the room was super-passionate about the issue. And then he would bring everybody back to a more respectful level, and then the passion would get wild again and then he tried to bring it back.”

She said Ryan Nivakoff, CEO of e-cigarette manufacturer NJOY, and American Vaping Association President Greg Conley were “by far the loudest voices in the room,” dispuiting arguments of Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who wants to ban flavored e-cigarettes.

“Nivakoff and Conley said such a ban would put companies and independent vaping shops across the country out of business while taking away an option that many adults have used to quit smoking cigarettes,” Sonka reports. “However, Adams says those vaping-industry officials provided four areas in which they were ready to compromise, including raising the age limit for purchasing tobacco and vaping products to 21, a self-imposed marketing ban, increasing punishment for retailers selling to anyone under 21, and increasing oversight of vape shops by local health officials.”

Adams “said she supports addressing the issue of marketing products to teens and thinks it is worth having a continued conversation about flavored products,” Sonka reports. She plans to sponsor a bill in the legislative session that starts Jan. 7 that would raise the age to buy tobacco products to 21.

“Adams said she was glad to attend the meeting and to get her perspective in front of the president,” Sonka writes, quoting her: “You know me, I’ll work with conservatives, liberals, moderates. This issue, I’m just very passionate about it, because we save a lot of tax dollars by having a healthy Kentucky.”
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