Everyone's been whispering that "Big Tobacco" was behind the Pact Act, legislation which outlaws mailing vape products through the United States Postal Service forcing vape companies to switch to more expensive private carriers, raising the cost to vape and burdening vape companies already struggling with the FDA's PMTA process.
But was it really the tobacco companies? And which politicians were behind it?
We followed the money and here's what we found.
There were 22 companies that registered to lobby the Pact Act. While the publicly available information doesn't specify who was lobbying for or against the act, it's pretty easy to guess. Here's how we broke it down:
So, looking at this list, Big Tobacco does in fact appear to have been behind the vape mail ban.
But what does "lobbying" mean exactly? How does Big Tobacco really manage to influence our politicians?
Lobbying is defined as "any communication made on behalf of a client" to lawmakers "regarding the formulation, modification, or adoption of legislation."
Many Americans, noticing the continual loss of rights, fairness and tax dollars to corporate interests, are wary of lobbyists, but lobbying is a complex process. It's not as simple as direct bribes which are illegal. Gifts are limited to $50 and under per gift with a total of $100 per year per member of Congress. However, the swampy ooze that permeates the lobbying process finds far more subtle ways to seep into the political process.
A lobbyist may give up to $5,000 in political donations to any political action committee (PAC) per year, just like any other American. However, there's no law that prohibits a lobbyist from actually becoming part of a politician's campaign and, in fact, that happens a lot.
According to the Center for Public Integrity, lobbyists have served as the treasurers of over 800 PACs since 1998 and at least 79 members of Congress have appointed lobbyists to head their campaign committees or leadership PACs. That's led to more than half a billion dollars spent to influence the political process. The lobbyists can also solicit donations from their cronies, raising the overall inflow to a politicians coffers far above the $5,000 individual maximum.
That's not to mention the millions of dollars that the companies that lobbyists represent pour into the coffers of politicians. For example, in the 2019-2020 period, British American Tobacco gave $4,050,060 in political contributions, Altria gave $2,457,229 and JUUL gave $621,229. All that money isn't being given because Altria is passionate about conservative or progressive politics, it's given to buy politicians by making them beholden to corporate interests in order to gain reelection.
What's more, many lobbyists are themselves former politicians. After leaving office, individuals are prohibited from lobbying their former department or agency for one year. In their second year, they can lobby as long as they report their former office on their lobbying registration forms. After that, anything goes.
The Center for Public Integrity reports that more than 2,200 former federal employees have become lobbyists after leaving office between 1998 and 2004 alone. That includes 250 former members of Congress and heads of agencies along with 273 former White House staffers.
These former politicians transitioned seamlessly into well paid lobbying jobs, using their contacts and influence to pressure the next generation of government office holders to bend to special interests. It's easy to imagine how a member Congress might be tempted to vote in favor of special interests when they know a lucrative lobbying job will be waiting for them after they leave office.
When members of Congress leave office, they also keep many of their privileges, including passes to members-only dining facilities, gyms, cloakrooms and even the chamber floors, areas that other lobbyists aren't allowed into. That makes them especially valuable to corporate interests looking to hire and members of Congress undoubtedly keep that in mind when they decide how to vote on a particular issue.
Lobbyists can also literally write the legislation itself. The thinking goes that politicians are not necessarily experts in every area and therefore industry stakeholders are most knowledgeable about how best to regulate themselves. Yeah, right.
If we had any real transparency in government, we should be able to find out if Big Tobacco did, indeed, write its own ticket by crafting the actual wording of the "vape mail ban." But, we don't and we'll probably never know.
What we do know is which Senators were behind this anti-vaping legislation:
Write your Senator and let them know that you vape and you vote and you won't forget their support for the Pact Act when the next election rolls around. To make it easy, here's a universal address to reach all Sentaors:
The Honorable (Name)
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510