The Alarming Epidemic of Misguided Meddling With E-Cigarettes

Banning the flavors that former smokers overwhelmingly prefer is a strange way to protect public health.


Banning flavored e-cigarettes is all the rage among politicians these days. It's an alarming trend that poses a clear and present danger to public health.

The epidemic of misguided meddling began earlier this month when Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that she planned to unilaterally criminalize the sale of e-cigarettes in flavors other than tobacco. The contagion quickly spread to the White House, where President Donald Trump said his administration plans to impose a similar ban at the federal level; New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week declared an "emergency" ban; California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would copy Cuomo if it were legally feasible; and Chicago, where Mayor Lori Lightfoot called for legislation aimed at closing "the gateway" to adolescent nicotine addiction.

The official justification for these measures is recent increases in vaping among teenagers, who overwhelmingly prefer the flavors that Whitmer et al. want to ban. Yet those flavors are also very popular among adults who have switched from smoking to vaping, a far less dangerous source of nicotine.

In a 2018 survey of 69,000 adult vapers who were asked which flavors they used regularly, just 8 percent said "tobacco," while 83 percent said "fruit," 71 percent mentioned flavors in the "dessert/pastry/bakery" category, 13 percent said "menthol," and 10 percent picked "mint/wintergreen." Eighty-one percent of the respondents described themselves as former smokers, 13 percent were still smoking, and 5 percent had never smoked. Among the former smokers, 75 percent had started vaping when they quit.

Surveys of former smokers find that flavor variety plays an important role in the process of switching to vaping. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has acknowledged "the role that flavors…may play in helping some smokers switch to potentially less harmful forms of nicotine delivery."

Former FDA chief Scott Gottlieb, notwithstanding his concerns about underage vaping, recognized the enormous harm-reducing potential of e-cigarettes, describing them as a "tremendous public health opportunity." Yet the FDA now plans to ban nearly all of the vaping products used by former smokers, which is likely to drive many of them back to a much more dangerous habit while deterring current smokers from making a switch that could save their lives.

The evidence suggests that vaping is replacing smoking among teenagers as well as adults. The prevalence of cigarette smoking among high school students has fallen to record lows as the prevalence of vaping has increased, and a 2018 study found that the decline in smoking among teenagers and young adults accelerated as vaping became increasingly common.

Some public officials and journalists have insinuated that legal e-cigarettes have something to with recent reports of severe respiratory illnesses among vapers. Yet in the vast majority of those cases, the patients had vaped black-market cannabis products.

The leading theory among state and federal investigators is that the illnesses are caused by additives or contaminants in those products, and possibly also in black-market nicotine e-liquid. One plausible culprit is vitamin E acetate, which was detected in most samples of THC fluid tested by the FDA and New York's state lab.

"The e-cigarettes and the vaping devices are often used to vape other substances," such as "THC" and "vitamin E acetate," Cuomo noted this week. "And many of these other products have no controls on them whatsoever, the so-called counterfeit products. They're not cleared by the FDA. There's been no analysis of them at all. So vaping is dangerous."

Under the cover of "vaping is dangerous," Cuomo is imposing a ban that will lead to greater use of "counterfeit products" that are "not cleared by the FDA," have not been analyzed, and "have no controls on them whatsoever." How does that make sense?

Selling e-cigarettes to minors is already illegal. Instead of enforcing age restrictions, the prohibitionists want to prevent adults from obtaining the vaping products they demonstrably prefer, which will predictably result in more smoking-related disease and death. That's a pretty strange way to protect public health.

© Copyright 2019 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. Make your own it’s simple, cheaper and you’ll know exactly what’s in it.

    1. The government will NOT be banning marijuana flavored marijuana cigarettes at this time.

  2. Smoking is sinful and sinners must be made to suffer.

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  5. If folks quit smoking, the gravy train settlement will run dry and states will go bust. Unless there’s a big-ass settlement with Juul, there’s no other way to fill the budget pothole except with smoke. So don’t let them breathe cake!!!!

  6. The point is not public health; it is government control of the individual. Read a history book.

    1. +1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

      1. Yep-but what separates tobacco control from the other control freaks is not only their desire to punish the sinners, but a Marxist determination to plunder a successful industry under the guise of protecting “the children”. The vast majority of anti-vapers are leftists. Maybe Trump jumped on their banwagon to deflect attention from the gun grabbers and say “Hey look- I’m doing something nice for the kiddos”

        1. It couldn’t possible be because trump is a vapid imbecile whose primary motivation is his ongoing popularity contest. No, it’s 4d chess!

  7. The puritanical nanny state combined with the fact that vaping is not exactly quitting the nicotine habit while getting around the exorbitant taxes on tobacco. They are outraged by vaping on several levels.

    1. There’s also a lot of ‘you won’t do what we told you to do the way we told you to do it, se we’re going to lie on the floor and drum our little heels on the ground until you do.’

      1. Yup. From its beginning the primary motivator of the anti-smoking crusade has never been about health, but about the galling fact that some individuals share different aesthetic preferences and make different decisions. The only difference between this and, say, mad mothers against metal music, is that the anti-smokers had something objective on their side they could cling to as a cover to legitimize their variously authoritarian and puritanical tendencies.

  8. The Alarming Epidemic of Misguided Meddling With E-Cigarettes

    It’s not “Alarming” when people do exactly what you would predict they’d do.

    1. They wanted people to keep smoking-their careers depend on it.

      1. Tax money > health, because those social services aren’t going to fund themselves.

  9. Mucking with e-cigs isn’t about health. It’s about the anti-smoking scolds throwing a tantrum because people won’t cease doing anything that LOOKS like smoking. The anti-smoking Crusade went off the rails sometime in the late 1970’s, when it began to become clear that the shaved-rat studies everyone used to find ‘carcinogens’ were so much codswallop, and the initial drop off in percentage of adult smokers plateaued. Since then, the whole thing has taken on many of the stupider aspects of the Anti-Saloon League.

    1. It seemed to go off the rails by my assessment in the mid-to-late 1980s, when it ceased to be about smoke and started to be about tobacco, nicotine, “addiction” and specifically makers of tobacco products. Environmental tobacco smoke’s danger was bizarrely exaggerated in the process, but soon the focus was away from the smoke. Then they couldn’t decide whether smokers were villains or victims.

      The solution preferred by reformers in the 1970s — development of a quick-hit, low-tar or no-tar, nicotine delivery system — was rejected by the time it came to fruition in the form of wet snuff pouches and then vape. The technology and business they’re attacking now as evil and dangerous is what their forebears just decades ago had wished for as the solution!

      1. The ‘Temperance’ movement started out wanting to MODERATE the amount people drank. Over time control of it was taken by loons and scolds. Carry Nation (yes, that’s how she spelled it) was completely nuts; Robert Louis Taylor’s biography of her – VESSEL OF WRATH – makes that eminently clear. By the time Prohibition was proving to be a spectacular failure , the movement had gone to the point that the head of the Anti-Saloon League, one of the most important ‘Dry’ organizations, loudly proclaimed that the government should keep ‘denaturing’ industrial alcohol, because people who drank in defiance of Prohibition deserved to be poisoned. Now, I can understand him FEELING that way, but being stupid enough to SAY it?

        The Anti-Tobacco Crusade has gone the same damned way. And so, in many ways, has the entire Political Left. Every year they get shriller about trying to make people behave like Good Little Leftists – driving electric cars, eating vegan (or at least vegetarian), using low water appliances (and therefore stinking) – and the shriller they get, the more people they alienate.

        1. Mostly right, but it’s fairly obvious that it isn’t the entire “political left”. There are still a decent number of more conventional leftists, especially outside of places like SF. I wonder how those folks feel about the circus that are the current democratic candidates for president nomination.

  10. The measure under way now is particularly stupid. First of all, the adverse health effects of nicotine in the doses usually taken are somewhere between minimal and trivial. So slight that the only danger they can imagine is that use of nicotine will get young users hooked on it, and then some substantial fraction of them will unaccountably switch to smoking. How is banning flavors supposed to help with that, especially if you exempt from the ban the flavors that imitate cigarets! Besides, if nicotine is a problem, wouldn’t the availability of flavors encourage vapers to switch to nicotine-free matching the vape flavor they come to like?

    But they’re already crazy with the bans on vaping in public where smoking is prohibited. If second-hand smoke was the excuse for that ban, why extend it to something that doesn’t smoke? It’s an example of what I call dragging the pivot foot, where the iinitial basis for the law is forgotten and a new basis assumed instead (as with kiddie self-porn). Duh, there must’ve been something wrong with smoking in public spaces, or they wouldn’t’ve banned it. I know, it must be about how it looked, so let’s close the loophole by extending the ban to something else that looks like that! Or maybe it’s about smoking pleasure, so let’s close the loophole that allows people to get the same pleasure some other way in public! Duh, if smoking on stage was prohibited, there must’ve been a reason — must be something about the tobacco, so let’s exempt smoking on stage if there’s no tobacco in it!

    1. Mmm nicotine causes your body to release fat which leads to arteriosclerosis.

      1. Nicotine probably does have a role in atherosclerosis but not due to fat metabolism. It results in accelerated heart rate and blood pressure which are factors. It also has an affect on platelets which is part of the pathogenesis in atherosclerosis. However the magnitude of these effects is not well understood.

        Tobacco smoke is without a doubt far worse as there are many other agents in that as well as carcinogens.

    2. Nothing ever shifted, not really. This was always about aesthetic sensibilities and the galling fact that other people don’t share one’s defining beliefs. Health was only ever a legitimizing cover.

      I’ve been saying this for years. At this point, it’s pretty much impossible to rebut my position.

  11. This is happening because helicopter parents simply can’t control every aspect of their kid’s lives, so now they’re looking for government to do it for them by banning flavored vaping. But what will be the response then when the first teen dies from using a completely unregulated black market flavored vaping fluid???

  12. Big unaccountable Government to the Rescue making the problem worse and telling us what we can and cannot do.
    Has any politician ever heard of the “Substitution Effect” or “Black Markets” ?

  13. Smoking/vaping is just like abortions. You don’t like smoking, don’t smoke! You don’t like abortions, don’t have one!

  14. Why is there no push to outlaw flavored liquors like vodka, rum and tequila? Because it’s illegal to sell it to minors in the first place.

    Things that make you go hmmmmm.

  15. Another day, another pro-vape ad at REASON.

    Do you guys own stock, or what?

    1. You realize the big money is still in the hands of big tobacco, who have been part of this new crusade all along?

      It’s the anti-vapers who are motivated by either A: money or B: pettiness.

      The Reason-types on this issue have fact, history, morality, and basic human decency on their side. The fact that you would impugn their motivations in this instance says not a single good thing about your character.

  16. It’s not about Protecting Public Health. Or Saving the Children.

    It’s about increasing cigarette sales, which are at an all time low. The trickle down effect of declining cigarette sales is a reduction in revenue for the states depending on cash from the Master Settlement Agreement. Those bonds are maturing faster than our youth are growing up.

    The class action lawsuits brought by states against the tobacco companies to “offset the cost of cigarette related illnesses” were never issues of “public health”, either. They were cash grabs, and they worked.

    By the way… The American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, et al, are hungry too. They’ve been feeding at the trough of the MSA from their inception.

    And while calling vaping products tobacco products is all well and good for regulators, it’s not so good for inclusion into the MSA.

    Just follow the money, and all of this makes perfect sense.

  17. Hey Spookk,

    Another day, another snarky comment by someone who fancies themselves to be quite informed, yet doesn’t, in reality, have a clue because they’ve not taken the time to educate themselves beyond what they hear on the evening news.

  18. Juul dominates the vaping sales in the US with a 76% market share. 80% of the nicotine flavors Juul sells are either tobacco or menthol. Therefore, by simple arithmetic, far more than 61% of the vaping liquid sold in the US are adult flavors. Anyone see a problem here?

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