E-cigarettes

Democrats Shift From Demonizing Cannabis to Demonizing Nicotine

The House is simultaneously advancing bills that would legalize marijuana and ban the vast majority of vaping products.

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This week the House Judiciary Committee is expected to approve the MORE Act, which would repeal the federal ban on marijuana. Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday approved a new federal ban on flavored e-cigarettes, which would make the vast majority of nicotine vaping products illegal. Also this week, the American Medical Association (AMA), which has questioned marijuana's classification as a Schedule I drug, approved a resolution calling for a complete ban on "all e-cigarette and vaping products."

The fact that Democratic legislators and AMA leaders who think the war on weed should be ended or scaled back are prepared to launch a new war on nicotine products is puzzling on its face, since they recognize the problems created by drug prohibition in one context while ignoring them in another. But the illogic of these contradictory impulses looks even worse when you notice that both the AMA and the members of Congress who want to ban flavored e-cigarettes are citing the recent outbreak of lung injuries tied to marijuana products as a justification for banning nicotine products.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D–N.J.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee and sponsored the ban on flavored nicotine e-liquids, mentioned "over 2,100 cases of lung injuries and 42 deaths related to vaping illnesses." The AMA likewise invoked "the recent lung illness outbreak linked to more than 2,000 illnesses and over 40 deaths across the country and a spike in youth e-cigarette use."

According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those cases overwhelmingly, and perhaps entirely, involve vaping of cannabis extracts, typically purchased on the black market. So far there is no evidence that legal nicotine e-cigarettes—the products that Pallone and the AMA want to severely restrict or ban—have caused any of these injuries or deaths. Since such products have been used by millions of Americans for years without causing such acute respiratory reactions, the likelihood that they are even partly responsible for the outbreak is approximately zero.

To be clear, the fact that cannabis products figure prominently in vaping-related lung injuries is not an argument for marijuana prohibition. Although a few lung disease cases have been linked to products purchased from state-licensed marijuana retailers, the main problem is a black market in which consumers do not know the provenance and composition of the products they are consuming. In a legal market, it is much easier to guard against potential hazards. Marijuana regulators in Colorado and Washington, for example, have banned the use of vitamin E acetate, a cutting and thickening agent implicated in the lung injuries, and state-licensed laboratories in states where marijuana is legal can test products for that ingredient and other potentially harmful additives or contaminants.

In other words, it is not at all inconsistent to call for legalization of marijuana in the face of health problems that seem to be caused by THC vapes containing ingredients that consumers do not anticipate. But it is exceedingly odd to cite those health problems while targeting an entirely different category of products. Worse, to the extent that bootleg nicotine e-liquids have played a role in the recent lung injuries, banning legal e-cigarettes will only exacerbate that problem.

Consider how The New York Times ties itself into knots while attempting to explain this utterly irrational political response. In an editorial last week, the Times recognized that the issue of "surging e-cigarette use among teenagers" is "distinct" from the issue of "a lung-injury outbreak that has sickened more than 2,000 people and killed at least 40." Because "black market products are a leading suspect in the lung-injury outbreak," it noted, "product bans are more likely to exacerbate this crisis than to mitigate it." But in a news story published yesterday, Times reporter Karen Zraick weirdly conflated the two issues that the paper's editorial board understands are unrelated:

[Juul] has come under intense scrutiny amid an outbreak of lung injuries and deaths linked to vaping. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state agencies have reported 2,172 lung injury cases and 43 deaths linked to vaping. More than 120 of the injured patients were under 18.

A majority of those cases involve people who said they had vaped THC, which Juul does not sell. But the illnesses highlighted how widespread vaping has become among American teenagers.

The Times editorial also pointed out that a ban on flavored e-liquids is likely to drive some of the millions of Americans who have switched from smoking to vaping back to their former habits, which were indisputably much more dangerous. That point seems entirely lost on the AMA.

"In calling for an e-cigarette ban, the AMA is also calling for hundreds of thousands of ex-smokers to return to smoking," writes Michael Siegel, a public health professor at Boston University, "since that is the effect that such a policy would have on a large proportion of the 2.5 million ex-smokers who currently rely upon e-cigarettes to stay off of the real ones. In addition, the AMA is calling for the creation of a new, dangerous black market for e-cigarettes and e-liquids because the overwhelming majority of those vapers who do not return to cigarette smoking will turn instead to the black market in an act of desperation to avoid having to go back to smoking."

While the AMA says "we must keep nicotine products out of the hands of young people," Siegel notes, the policy it recommends would favor conventional cigarettes, a far more hazardous source of nicotine. "There is absolutely no way in which the AMA can justify calling for a ban on e-cigarettes while allowing real tobacco cigarettes to stay on the market." Siegel calls the organization's proposed ban on vaping products "the most dangerous health-related policy proposal from a medical or health organization that I have seen in my career."

The answer is surely not a blanket ban on all nicotine products, which would only add a new front to the disastrous war on drugs, compounding all the familiar problems caused by prohibition. But the shift from demonizing cannabis to demonizing e-cigarettes is not a good sign for anyone who hoped that recognizing the folly of marijuana prohibition would lead to a broader understanding of the costs inflicted by attempts to forcibly prevent people from consuming psychoactive substances.

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  1. We got trouble, right here in River City
    That starts with T, which rhymes with V,
    And that stands for Vape.

    Gotta find a way to keep the kids moral after school.

  2. Blaming vaping for the ills of contraband and tobacco is right on par with blaming “assault weapons” for criminals and handguns.

      1. Thanks for the insight, I’ll switch to forks post-haste.

        1. Only works if you eat soup.

      2. And those plastic spoons are destroying our oceans. We could solve both problems by requiring everyone to use paper spoons and you get only one spoon per day.

        They’ll decompose quickly when they’re thrown away and save the environment. Even better, if you eat too much they’ll decompose while you’re eating and stop you from stuffing your face.

        It’s a win-win for everyone.

  3. But will we be able to vape marijuana legally?

    1. No. But you will be able to vape a regulated blend of CBD and THC oil flavored like rabbit shit if you apply for a registration card.

      1. We’re thinking of ditching the registration card in favor of arm bands or lapel flair.

    2. The catch seems to be that although THC and CBD vape fluid won’t be affected by a ban, a tank vaporizer (that could theoretically take nicotine) would. So it’s like the only legal cannabinoid vape would be a Juul-style disposable.

  4. Yet again- no bias. “Democrats blah blah blah” without putting in the headline Repubs are for it too- Trump was just a week ago, before changing his mind yet again.

    1. You are a special kinda stupid, aren’tcha?

  5. Democrat Party: Never met a ban they didnt like.

    Even “legalized” marijuana is NOT legalized. Its a de-regulated weed industry where a black market still exists.

    Democrats are a plague.

  6. You are expecting logic and consistency from legislatures?

    I would suggest that nicotine vaping is resented by the political class as a loophole to get around all the restrictions and taxes on more traditional tobacco products. The recent health problems associated with adulterated cannabis vaping products was an excuse to do something about nicotine vaping the political class have been itching to put in place for a long time. Like 9/11 and much of the Patriot Act.

    1. Maybe not legislators, but the A fucking MA?!

      1. The lobbying arm is part of the political class.

  7. “There is absolutely no way in which the AMA can justify calling for a ban on e-cigarettes while allowing real tobacco cigarettes to stay on the market.”

    Ah, HA!!

  8. It’s pure culture war: hippies vs. hipsters.

  9. These scumbags are absolutely despicable, but pushing for more Prohibition ain’t exactly surprising. There’s no profit in freedom. Seriously, what would politicians do without a rabid desire to control others and exploit manufactured crises? It’s one of the few remaining growth-industries these days.

    Everyone’s seen those mendacious ‘truth’ campaign ‘let’s end it now’ anti-nicotine commercials, funded via proceeds from the Great Tobacco Company Shakedown. Business is SO good, they’re branching out into Drug War propaganda, shilling and fearmongering about the opioid ‘epidemic’ with a new commercial warning that you – yes, YOU – will become a junkie in only 5 days! To avoid this, take Jeff Session’s advice and shoot an aspirin, you weaklings.

    1. These scumbags are absolutely despicable, but pushing for more Prohibition ain’t exactly surprising. There’s no profit in freedom.

      But there can be profit in permitting.

    2. take Jeff Session’s advice and shoot an aspirin, you weaklings

      What do we do in states that have aggressive gun control laws?

  10. “since they recognize the problems created by drug prohibition in one context while ignoring them in another”

    No, they don’t. They finally simply struck by the popular support for marijuana, and are feeling forced to legalize. They care nothing for prohibition’s problems. Only for their own. Meanwhile, the opposite is happening with tobacco products, where there’s a decline in popularity. Bonus for them! They can prohibit and not lose too many votes.

    1. When I was in grad school, late ’90s-early ’00s, all right-thinking people in academia thought MJ should be legal because of the obvious problems with prohibition, but thought tobacco should be outlawed because of the obvious health problems. It didn’t seem to occur to hardly anybody that there was any relationship between the former and the latter.

      1. And we need to ban fatty foods and sugary drinks. Oh, excuse me, you’re standing where I’m setting up my “safe” injection site.

  11. It really is. When I was in CA this summer, I saw some TV ads about vaping that were as ridiculous as any 80’s just say no stuff. And that was before the present vaping panic.

    1. Yeah – bus stops in the Bay Area are filling up with anti-vaping ads that seem very retro-80s. Makes me feel like a teenager again. Also makes me want to take up vaping.

  12. I thought democrats had more important things to do-like impeachment and saving the planet.

    As for the AMA-they are shithead shills for the pharma industry and don’t like e-cigs because you don’t need to see a doctor anymore to quit smoking

  13. The fact that Democratic legislators and AMA leaders who think the war on weed should be ended or scaled back are prepared to launch a new war on nicotine products is puzzling on its face, since they recognize the problems created by drug prohibition in one context while ignoring them in another.

    Speaking of ignoring things:

    Pot — Not chemically addictive
    Alcohol — Not chemically addictive
    Tobacco — Extremely addictive

    Chemically addictive, cancer-causing drugs that kill roughly half a million Americans every year should be regulated. There’s nothing puzzling about that. You can argue under libertarian principles of freedom that regulation, even of addictive substances, is bad but that’s not the same thing as “puzzling on its face.”

    You go on to argue that this would mean children would be forced to smoke old-fashioned cigarettes without first showing that an equal or greater number of kids would begin their addiction with an old-fashioned cigarette as those who currently choose candy-flavored ecigs. The alternative to starting an addiction with ecigs isn’t a pack of Marlboros–it’s not starting at all.

    Speaking of which, you make that same error when talking about adults who will be forced to return to the old-fashioned cancer-stick if they can’t get their tooty-fruity ecigs. If they’re truly worried about their health, quitting is the obvious choice. Of course, quitting is damned hard–nearly impossible for some–which brings us back to the rapid increase in tobacco addiction among high school students since Big Tobacco came up with the ipod version of the cigarette and made it taste like a bucket of Halloween candy.

    One last statistic: According to drugabuse.gov: 30.7 percent of e-cig users started smoking within 6 months while 8.1 percent of non users started smoking. Smoking includes combustible tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars, and hookahs).

    1. alcohol most certainly is addictive (10% of Americans are alcoholics. Pot can be too, or the term stoner most certainly wouldn’t exist.

      Not disputing that nicotine is addictive, but it does not wreak havoc on the body or society if it isn’t smoked and does help some people perform better at cognitive tasks. The study I saw showed that about 25% of high school seniors had tried vaping but only about 10% vape every day-a high number but not a crisis and not much different from the number who smoke. This was from the monitoring the future study. Do you have a citation for yours?

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