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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Conservative leaders are circulating data to White House staff that claims adults who vape will turn on President Trump if he follows through with his planned ban on flavored e-cigarettes, Axios has learned. 

Between the lines: The data (shown below) reveals that the number of adult vapers in key battleground states greatly outweighs the margins by which Trump won those states in 2016 — and they argue it could cost him reelection.

What we're hearing: "While parents may be concerned about e-cigarettes, the people who genuinely care about vaping as a voting issue so far outweighs the number of people Trump needs to win in 2020 that they are royally screwing themselves by doing this," Paul Blair, the director of strategic initiatives at Americans for Tax Reform, tells me.

  • Suburban moms concerned about vaping "don't have the same voter intensity on this as adult vapers do," an industry lobbyist said.
  • Florida, which Trump won by 113,000 voters, had about 873,000 adult vapers in 2016. They reason that if 1 in 8 vapers turn against Trump in 2020 because he foreclosed their vaping options, it could jeopardize the election.

Why it matters: If Trump backs away from proposed enforcement policy, it would be the second time in recent weeks that political concerns prompted him to dial back government regulations.

  • Trump's openness this summer to expanded background checks cooled after the gun lobby and campaign advisers warned about bad internal polling.

Our thought bubble: There are four unsubstantiated assumptions about adult vapers in the case being presented to Trump:

  1. They start out as Trump voters.
  2. They wouldn't vape anymore if they couldn't get the flavors.
  3. They are single-issue voters around vaping rights.
  4. The eventual Democratic nominee would be more vape-friendly.

Still, the math can't be totally ignored, especially in places like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin where Trump's 2016 win margins were so narrow and the number of adult vapers is relatively high.

By the numbers: More than 4 million people in swing states regularly used e-cigarettes in 2016, according to FDA-funded survey data published last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

  • Industry experts say that number has increased significantly in recent years.

Behind the scenes: The White House scheduled a listening session with conservative groups last Thursday after receiving intense backlash from GOP leaders and industry execs following the announcement of the ban.

  • Among the invitees: The Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Goldwater Institute, AFT and the Vapor Technology Association.
  • But roughly 24 hours after invitations went out, the meeting was canceled.
  • "They’re in chaos mode on this stuff because the backlash has been so resoundingly overpowering," one invitee said.
  • A White House official says the meeting is expected to be rescheduled.

The bottom line: The political pressure points regarding the ban have gotten Trump's attention.

  • Shortly after the proposed ban was announced, Trump tweeted that he still likes vaping as an alternative to cigarettes.
  • Trump's 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale also hit back at a Trump follower who tweeted that banning vaping products is "not on brand with MAGA."
  • One administration official said the tweets were prompted by a flood of criticism from conservative leaders.

Go deeper

Dems race to address, preempt stimulus fraud claims

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Biden officials are working to root out the systematic fraud in unemployment and Paycheck Protection Program claims that plagued the Trump administration’s efforts to boost the economy with coronavirus relief money, Gene Sperling told House committee chairmen privately this week.

Why it matters: President Biden just signed another $1.9 trillion of aid into law, with Sperling tapped to oversee its implementation. And the administration is asking Congress to approve another $2.2 trillion for the first phase of an infrastructure package.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden close to picking Nick Burns as China ambassador

Nicholas Burns. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat, is in the final stages of vetting to serve as President Biden’s ambassador to China, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Across the administration, there's a consensus the U.S. relationship with China will be the most critical — and consequential — of Biden's presidency. From trade to Taiwan, the stakes are high. Burns could be among the first batch of diplomatic nominees announced in the coming weeks.

Biden's Russian sanctions likely to achieve little

President Biden announces new sanctions against Russia. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Despite bold talk from top administration officials, there's little reason to think the Russia sanctions package President Biden announced Thursday will do anything to alter Russian President Vladimir Putin's behavior or calculus.

Why it matters: While it's true some elements of the package — namely, the targeting of Russia's sovereign debt — represent significant punitive measures against Moscow, it leaves plenty of wiggle room for the Russian president.