On November 8, the transition team of President-Elect Joe Biden announced the appointment of several public health experts to his coronavirus advisory board. Former Surgeon General of the United States under both the Obama and Trump administrations Vivek Murthy made the list.
Murthy is controversial for a number of reasons. He is considered by many political pundits to be extremely anti-vaping and was even abruptly fired by President Trump himself back in April 2017. One of Murthy’s most outrageous comments came in December of the previous year when Murthy said, “We know a great deal about what works to effectively prevent tobacco use among young people…Now we must apply these strategies to e-cigarettes.”
Related Article: What is Joe Biden’s view on vaping?
These were the early days of the popularity of vaping as a possible smoking cessation product, and the United Kingdom’s Public Health England organization had already endorsed vaping as being 95 percent less harmful than smoking. The Royal College of Physicians also supported the research as did nearly every federal public health agency in Europe. Yet, Murthy was bucking the trend.
Vivek Murthy issues false claims about vaping
Murthy’s statements caused the conservative-leaning Reuters to issue a statement of its own in coordination with R Street. “The long tradition of scientifically rigorous messages and reports from the U.S. surgeon general appears to have ended,” the news organizations said. “The report focuses on youth experimentation and completely omits the opportunities for harm reduction these devices offer for adult smokers,” of which there were some 40 million at the time.
Murthy further falsely claimed that e-cigarette vapor contains a potentially lethal level of “volatile organic compounds” and heavy metals like lead, tin, and nickel. However, scientists from the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, quickly refuted these assertions by publishing a vaping study that indicates e-cig vapor is at least 57 percent less carcinogenic than cigarette smoke after only seven days of use. The study entitled Exposure to Nicotine and Selected Toxicants in Cigarette Smokers Who Switched to Electronic Cigarettes: A Longitudinal Within-Subjects Observational Study (Oxford Academic Nicotine and Tobacco Research) also shows no measurable levels of volatile organic compounds or heavy metals.
Vivek Murthy claims open door to vaping bans nationwide
Fast-forward to current times, America now has numerous vaping bans already in place at the state and municipal levels – bans that are largely based on a repeatedly disproven theory that vaping causes a mysterious lung ailment called EVALI. To be clear, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has overwhelming debunked these claims since last February.
Yet, the bans continue. In fact, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has tried to impose a statewide flavor ban on at least two occasions only to be smacked down by the state Supreme Court on both occasions. She is now attempting a third time.
Meanwhile, California Governor Gavin Newsome just signed into law vaping ban legislation approved by both houses of the state congress and almost nine months after the CDC’s confirmation that nicotine-based vapes have nothing whatsoever to do with EVALI.
With election results in dispute, Biden goes on offense
This brings us back to Biden’s appointment of Vivek Murthy to the presidential task force on the coronavirus pandemic. Why Vivek? And why now?
Just last Monday, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnel made his first post-election speech on the senate floor. Instead of rebuking President Trump’s allegations of possible voter fraud in the 2020 elections, McConnel doubled-down and offered his support while claiming that any elected official has the right to contest election results in a court of law.
Meanwhile, global leaders like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and Angela Merkel of Germany are sending congratulations to the President-Elect and his running mate, Kamala Harris. In the United States, Republicans senators Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz are siding with Trump while Maine’s Susan Collins and Utah’s Mitt Romney openly support a peaceful transition for Biden.
If the 2020 elections have taught the American People anything, it is that political gridlock in Washington, DC remains alive and well. But all of this political hand-wringing and interparty angst is causing Joe Biden some headaches that he might not have anticipated.
Senate control plays significant role in the future of vaping
If, indeed, Biden is the President-Elect, then he needs to get busy and build his cabinet – a cabinet which must ultimately be senate confirmed. His choices for cabinet positions like Secretary of the Department of Heath and Human Services or Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may largely depend on which party controls the Senate.
Related Article: Why the GA Senate run-off elections matter to the future of vaping
Right now, that control is in republican hands, but there are also three senate seats still unresolved from the 2020 elections. One is in Alaska, which usually goes to the republican, and the other two are in Georgia which has just flipped Blue for the first time in decades.
Unfortunately for Biden, those two Georgia senate elections are being forced into January run-off races due to an obscure state law requiring the winner of a senate race to achieve 50 percent or greater of all popular vote. Until those Georgia races are decided, the democrats still have a chance of taking control of the Senate.
Why Vivek? And why now?
In Joe Biden’s mind, the election is over. He’s won. He’s the President-Elect, and he needs to start acting presidential. Since the control of the senate is still unresolved and will be for several weeks, his only option is to create news by forming committees and threatening presidential executive orders that will overturn those of President Trump.
Which is where former SG Vivek Murthy comes in. By appointing the anti-vaper Murthy to his very first, officially announced, presidential committee, Biden is signally to his constituents the direction in which his administration will head. He is also giving the previously fired Murthy some much-needed political clout after his disastrous tenure under President Trump. Meanwhile, the American People will begin to see Murthy on television and begin to wrongly trust whatever he says – not just about COVID, but ultimately about vaping, as well.
Related Article: NYT: Trump to announce flavor ban; open-system vaping might be okay
(Image courtesy of Shutterstock)