The federal government seems to be ramping up the war on vaping, and there is a danger that the solutions to problems with vaping be end up being overbroad and ineffective in protecting the health of Americans. Vaping is popular and a safe alternative for those weaning themselves off of smoking tobacco the old-fashioned way. The war on vaping is likely to end up infringing on the freedom of Americans to make their own choice on how to consume tobacco products.
Recent news of health problems associated with people smoking black-market vaping products has put vaping front and center. The most recent push for regulations on the selling of vaping products has become a bipartisan fight with elements of both parties upping the ante on regulatory ideas to stamp out vaping.
The Trump administration announced new rules banning thousands of e-cigarette flavors, while Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration also demanding a ban on all e-cigarette flavors other than tobacco, in addition to his call for a ban on non-FDA-approved e-cigarette devices and asking to send notices to schools of the potential harms of vaping. A ban on flavored e-cigarettes does not appear to be a viable solution to the problem at hand. As usual, the federal government is using a hammer when a less aggressive regulatory idea makes more sense.
The feds are reacting to recent news of severe health problems from recent vaping use. CNBC reported on Aug. 30, 2019, that “U.S. health officials are investigating 215 possible cases of severe lung disease associated with vaping across 25 states.” Reason reported on Sept. 9, 2019: “One possible culprit, identified in most samples of cannabis extracts tested by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and health officials in New York, is vitamin E acetate, an oil-based nutritional supplement that may be dangerous when inhaled.” The report cited former FDA chief Scott Gottlieb, who recently noted on Twitter that “most of these severe cases, so far, appear to be symptoms that can occur when either oils or lipid-containing substances enter lungs. This points to illegal products that are being cut with dangerous chemicals as a culprit.”
There seems to be a problem, yet the federal government is using a regulatory idea that does not address the issue, yet is effective to enforce a death by a thousand cuts strategy to outlaw vaping.
There is always the argument used by the advocates of government intervention in the economic activities of consenting adults that we need to protect the children from access to these types of products. Same arguments apply to alcohol and marijuana, yet the government has not banned alcohol and many states are liberalizing cannabis laws to reflect the will of people in those states. I have many friends who vape and used vaping to get off smoking tobacco cigarettes. Using the argument that the government needs to protect children who potentially could illegally gain access to an adult product to justify banning the product will inevitably lead to an emotional push for regulations and legislation that will restrict the freedom of adults.
Right now there appears to be a serious problem with vaping products that are sold on the black market. The regulatory idea of banning flavored e-cigarettes does not come close to addressing that problem. This is a feel-good way for the federal government to check a box and claim they did something, even though the regulatory idea is a Trojan Horse for anti-vaping forces who want to make all vaping illegal.
If the anti-vaping forces win, there will still be a large market of adults who will then be pushed into a black market to get vaping products. This is a logical outcome of a de facto ban that will end up pushing law-abiding citizens into illegal activity to continue to use vaping products.
The bottom line is that government should respect the freedom of adults to make informed choices. The idea of banning flavored e-cigarettes is a bad one that the federal government should walk away from.
Brian Darling is a former senior communications director and counsel for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
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