Art by Hazuki Tonomura
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Will a national ban on e-cigarettes actually solve the vaping epidemic?
After recent lung disease outbreaks linked directly to THC—a main component of psychoactive marijuana, there has been a demand for legislative action against the vaping epidemic that is sweeping the nation. Deemed as a public health emergency, electronic nicotine delivery systems, more commonly known as e-cigarettes or vape pens, have recently faced the direct scrutiny of the FDA and President Trump himself. Following a rising tide of attractive vaping flavors such as peanut-butter-and-jelly and Strawberry Watermelon POP is the dark realization that vaping has begun to target youth. In an on and off battle against the flavored cartridges in vapes, practically every form of government has pooled together to reduce the dangerous effects of vaping on minors.
Starting with the state of Michigan in early September, a total of six states have placed age, or production restrictions on vaping. Most recently is Governor Baker, who on September 24, set a four month ban on the sale of vaping products: effective till May of 2020.
At first glance, this fragmented collection of vaping bans may have the power to remake a multi-billion dollar vaping industry. However, in the end, an outright ban on vaping is a sporadic, politically incentivized decision, that is just a smokescreen sprouted for legislators to be able to say that they have done something to lower the statistics of minority vaping and vaping related injuries. More importantly, the vaping ban is set up to fail. Starting from its politically fueled, orange haired, roots.
After a marijuana induced lung disease outbreak, the Trump administration took it upon themselves to tackle two problems at once: the teen vaping crisis and marajuana vapes. Despite being separate issues, President Trump has made no inclination of the differences and has instead continued to push for a ban on nicotine vaping products, which are regulated by the FDA. In the meantime, President Trump actively tweeted on Twitter ‘While I like the Vaping alternative to Cigarettes, we need to make sure this alternative is SAFE for ALL! Let’s get counterfeits off the market, and keep young children from Vaping!’
However, hold your excitement. It would not be the first time that the President jumped on a popular political bandwagon only to back out as soon as political concerns prompted him to dial back. In fact, if Trump backs away from this proposed enforcement policy, it would be the second time this year that he dialed back due to political concerns. Nonetheless, sketchy presidential support is not the only reason that the vaping ban is set to fail.
Remember the “noble” ban on alcohol in 1920 to 1933? This act, called Prohibition, began to curve crime rates and alcohol consumption only to be met with a rebounded increase in government spending and more organized crime systems. Ironically, although consumption did decrease for a short time, it actually grew steadily afterwards, bridging in 1922, and marking the start to a time of illicit production and distribution despite efforts of enforcement.
Similarly, a ban on vaping will send smokers back to the packs, stretch court and prison systems and remove a significant source of tax revenue. See the pattern? In other words, Prohibition was a miserable failure and if the vaping ban does not change its course, it will be too.
Worse, this ban is blatantly hypocritical in nature. Why ban e-cigarettes—which are only a decade old, rather than cigarettes which have killed about eight million people a year according to the World Health Organization? The answer lies in economic reasoning. In 2018, revenues from tobacco tax amounted to 12.86 billion U.S. dollars. Clearly, the government is aiming to put a bandaid on a fairly new wound, rather than sorting out the tax related issues and backlash that come with cigarettes.
Unfortunately, if legislators pass this ban without considering the true issue behind vaping, they are doomed to repeat their past mistakes. Firstly, the entire ban is mainly centered on the dangerously popular flavored cartridges that attracted teens to vaping. Flavors such as mint or mango-creme are particularly attractive to youth. However, these flavored cartridges are a smokescreen for unhealthy amounts of nicotine and the various additives and condiments in a vape stick. Going down to the nitty gritty details, vaping exposes the body to far more nicotine than normal cigarettes. Therefore, instead of hastily creating a vaping ban, we should instead focus on understanding the underlying health concerns that come with vaping. Only then will legislators have the ethical leeway to say that they have worked to solve the vaping epidemic.
Prohibition did not stop the consumption of alcohol, and illegality did not stop the drug trade. A ban on e-cigarettes will not solve the vaping issue either. It takes more than a nuanced understanding of such a complex issue to effectively solve it. Vaping is no longer the back alley version of the cool kids cigarettes. It has evolved to a multi-billion corporation that will not back down quickly or quietly.
Anyone looking to quit vaping should call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for help.