The D.C. Lawmaker Going Toe to Toe With Big Vape Never Planned to Be in This Fight

The D.C. Lawmaker Going Toe to Toe With Big Vape Never Planned to Be in This Fight


At a time when Washington, D.C. is paralyzed by partisan gridlock and impeachment hearings, it can be challenging for lawmakers to focus on their day jobs: lawmaking. But Raja Krishnamoorthi, a 46-year-old, second-term Illinois Democratic congressman from the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, has won bipartisan support for his efforts to curb young people’s use of e-cigarettes, as their surging popularity perpetuates a health crisis among the nation’s youth.

Krishnamoorthi, a father of three and the son of Indian immigrants, twice campaigned on promises to strengthen the middle class and grow the economy. But as teen use of e-cigarettes skyrocketed in recent years, he was confronted with a health problem he found impossible to separate from thoughts of his own family. Kids who vape “look like my children,” he says. It compelled Krishnamoorthi to launch one of the first Congressional investigations into teen vaping and the company most responsible for the surge: Juul Labs.

In July, the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, which Krishnamoorthi chairs, held a high-profile, two-day hearing into Juul’s marketing practices and alleged appeal to children, exposing similarities between historical tobacco advertising and Juul ads, as well as the company’s visits to schools and Native American reservations. The company has since been slapped with a warning letter from the Food and Drug Administration, replaced its CEO, and halted U.S. advertising and sales of flavored products.

His efforts have won important bipartisan support, a feat in this deeply polarized government. In September, he formed an anti-youth vaping caucus with two powerful allies, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Rep. Peter King of New York, in hopes of producing bipartisan legislation aimed at curtailing teen vaping. In October, he introduced a bill that would limit the amount of nicotine in vaping products, which he says is crucial to preventing children from getting addicted. “The forces of Big Tobacco and the e-cigarette industry are very powerful. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a while for people to wake up to just how dangerous some of these products are,” Krishnamoorthi told TIME in September.

The Trump administration threatened to pull all flavored vaping products off the market in the wake of Krishnamoorthi’s hearing, prompting a number of states and cities to pass emergency vaping bans of their own. Last month, the Administration subsequently appeared to change course, announcing plans to raise the minimum age of purchase to 21 over concerns that prohibition will drive the industry underground.

Krishnamoorthi’s mission to take on Big Vape comes as an outbreak of vaping-related lung diseases has swept the U.S., sickening almost 2,300 people across all 50 U.S. states, killing 48 and raising the stakes for lawmakers and regulators. And though illnesses appear to be linked mainly to bootleg THC products, the outbreak thrust the entire e-cigarette industry into the national spotlight after years on the fringes of public discourse.

The FDA overall has unfortunately been kind of AWOL on this issue,” Krishnamoorthi told TIME. 

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