Juul Labs has spent millions of dollars on lobbying, hired high-profile Trump administration officials, and blanketed Washington with ads touting its efforts against underage vaping.
None of that was enough to keep President Donald Trump from moving to ban flavored e-cigarettes on Wednesday, delivering a blow to the dominant vaping company and its rivals.
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“Vaping has become a very big business as I understand it, a giant business in a very short period of time,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, sitting alongside Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. “But we can’t allow people to get sick and we can’t have our youth be so affected.”
Neither Trump nor Azar mentioned Juul in their remarks. But Scott Gottlieb, who pressed for greater regulation of vaping as Trump’s Food and Drug Administration commissioner before stepping down earlier this year, said the move would have an outsize impact on the San Francisco-based company.
“This problem was largely created by the cartridge-based Juul products in my opinion,” Gottlieb said in a statement to POLITICO.
Juul didn’t respond to a request for comment. The company has said in the past that its e-cigarettes, including the flavored ones, are intended for adults, and it has lobbied to raise the age for purchasing tobacco products to 21.
But Juul has been girding for a major Washington battle ever since it was spun off from Pax Labs in 2017.
Juul hired its first Washington lobbyists in 2017 and rapidly ramped up its spending, flush with cash after the tobacco giant Altria spent $13 billion to acquire a 35 percent stake in the company last year.
The vaping company shelled out nearly $2 million on lobbying in Washington in the first half of this year alone, according to disclosure filings. Its two dozen lobbyists include former Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) and former Democratic and Republican congressional staffers of both parties. The company’s PAC has also written nearly $200,000 in checks to candidates and PACs affiliated with both parties, according to campaign finance disclosures.
Juul brought on Tevi Troy, who worked with Azar in George W. Bush’s administration, last year as vice president of public policy, although he hasn’t registered as a lobbyist.
It’s also focused on hiring former Trump administration officials.
In the past few months, Juul brought on Vice President Mike Pence’s director of media affairs, Rebeccah Propp, as its communications director, and former White House aide Johnny DeStefano as an outside consultant. They joined Josh Raffel, a former White House spokesman who worked closely with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump and is now a Juul spokesman.
Matthew Myers, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said Trump’s crackdown announcement on Wednesday was notable because it came “despite an extraordinary amount of spending by Juul on hiring lobbyists and making political contributions.”
Juul has also orchestrated a massive lobbying effort in state capitals across the country, hiring Martha Coakley, a former Democratic Massachusetts attorney general, earlier this year to help with the effort.
Juul shelled out nearly $240,000 on lobbying in California in the first half of the year, according to state disclosure filings. The company’s lobbying in the state included a successful effort to beat back two proposed statewide bans on flavored e-cigarettes similar to the federal ban Trump endorsed on Wednesday.
And in San Francisco, Juul has spent more than $4.5 million to support its November initiative to overturn the city’s prohibition on e-cigarette sales in retail stores and online, and replace it with a set of sales restrictions the company supports. That’s more than all other city measures and candidates on the ballot combined.
Juul has hired lobbyists in at least 38 other states as well as New York City, Chicago and the District of Columbia, according to data compiled for POLITICO by Vigilant, a company that aggregates public records data.
But the lobbying campaign wasn’t enough to keep Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer from moving last week to bar the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in the state. Whitmer, a Democrat, said on Wednesday that Trump was “doing the right thing.”
“Right now, companies are getting our kids hooked on nicotine by marketing flavors like apple juice, bubble gum and candy,” she said in a statement. “Banning these flavors is a bold step that will keep our kids healthy and safe from the harmful efforts of vaping.”
Victoria Colliver and Sarah Owermohle contributed to this report.