Is It Really About Vaping?

The Courtesan Ariwara of the Tsuruya Seated by a Smoking Chest (mid 1790s) by Chōbunsai Eishi from the Cleveland Museum of Art (Cropped for detail).

Cigarettes have directly caused the deaths of thousands and damaged the lives of countless more. A far safer alternative comes around in the form of vaping and is wildly successful. What is government’s response to a relatively minuscule number of reported health issues dubiously connected to this newly labeled “public health crisis?” Is it to invest money in research? Is it to enact legislation requiring a higher manufacturing standard? Is it to verify that these cases are in fact related and indicative of a larger pattern? Of course not. Both the federal and state governments of this country have taken yet another opportunity to stand on their moral soapboxes and preach down to the irresponsible, inept, and impressionable heathens that make up their constituency.

Let’s consider a few elements of what is going on. The first concern on everyone’s mind are the reported cases of lung disease apparently tied to the use of vaping products. It is true that long-term studies do not exist to understand the full effects of vaping. It is true that, like with all things we put into our bodies, some people will react differently than others. It is true that these people may have become sick directly because they vaped. But to what extent this demands or would be negated by a near complete ban on vaping products is frankly dubious. Should we ban peanuts because some people are made very ill, even potentially killed by eating them? Should we ban cars because some people may end up injured or killed in a car crash? Should we ban private in ground pools because it is possible that a person might drown in it? Should we ban fast food because it is linked to obesity and heart disease in some individuals? There is an endless number of potentially dangerous and potentially fatal activities we engage in every day. Should they all be banned?

Secondly, it is paramount that the scale of the “public health crisis” be kept in check. When literally tens of thousands have had their lives truncated by cigarettes, is it rational to loose one’s cool over one hundred, two hundred, or even three hundred cases of adverse reactions to vaping? Certainly these cases deserve attention. It is possible that there are dangerous long-term consequences associated with vaping that people must be made aware of. But if millions of people vape every day with no issue how sensible is it to pretend like outlying cases are suddenly the norm? And even if it were the norm like lung disease is with regard to cigarettes, who is the government to say that a person, knowing of the risks and competent in their decision making, should not be able to assume that risk in the same way they are permitted to do every day when they get into a car or swim in a pool?

But this necessarily brings up the question of youth vaping. This is a legitimate concern. The youth, as is broadly defined as those below the age of majority, lack the decision making capabilities necessary to assume risks on their own. Hence, it makes rational sense that these members of our society should be prevented from accessing such risky products as alcohol, tobacco, and now vaping products. Certainly, the prevalence of vaping in these younger demographics is of concern and should be addressed. However, these goofy and reactionary measures being proposed by government officials seem less concerned with actually productively curbing youth vaping and more with moralizing and gaining more control over the lives and choices of individuals. As with all major government power grabs, the most salient argument always involves “the fragile youth.” Always, “the youth” is the innocent and helpless victim that can only be saved by the valiant and pure-hearted government. It’s an emotional plea. It’s language that demands an immediate and heavy-handed reaction.

Time and time again the government has attempted to curb one of these “epidemics.” Whether it be underage drinking, drinking and driving, drinking and having sex, teenage pregnancy, drug use, drug use and sex, smoking, petty crime, etc., the government has attempted and largely failed to intervene. Go to any school anywhere in the country and you will see these deleterious behaviors occurring almost entirely unimpeded. Young people still drink regardless of the drinking age being 21. Young people still get their hands on drugs regardless of the “zero tolerance” policies and mandatory minimums that have senselessly destroyed so many lives. Young people continue to smoke cigarettes despite both the known and well publicized dangers associated with their use as well as the longstanding government prohibition on their sale to minors. If parents are truly concerned that their child might succumb to the temptations of nicotine, they would go out of their way to educate them and prevent them from having access. Just as so many parents successfully steered their children away from cigarettes, unsafe sex, and drunk driving, there is no reason why parental intervention would be ineffective with regard to vaping. Why then do people act as though this is a situation so far out of their control that they need the benevolent government to intervene from on-high to protect their own children? What honestly do gray haired legislators know about how one should raise one’s own child? Given how blatantly ineffective wide-sweeping government programs have been at curbing these “epidemics” why are people willing to assume they will be effective this time. Even if there is a positive impact from these bans, will they truly be worth the cost?

And what will be that cost? Well, there are two elements to this question: the cost of enforcement, and the social cost. The cost of enforcement will be immense. Regardless of how these bans are implemented, it will add yet another level of bureaucracy and regulatory non-sense. Police will have to monitor stores, seize illicit products, and suppress the inevitable black market that will be created in the absence of a legitimate industry. This cost will be borne by the taxpayers, as it always is. Then, there will be the social cost. How many lives will be ruined? How many teenagers will end up in court? How many parents will be made an example of? Once we celebrate the public guillotining of the CEOs of these companies but the scourge of vaping continues to persist, who will be the next to blame? And what of those who have made a habit out of vaping? In the absence of the relatively safe source of nicotine, where will they go for their fix? Might it be cigarettes? Might the end result of this moralistic pandering be an increase in cigarette use?

It is crucial to point out that a conversation about vaping must occur. It is clear that, regardless of these reactionary bans, it’s here to stay. As noted earlier, research, sensible regulation, and parental responsibility are all viable elements of an effective response to this new phenomenon. It is truly interesting how these sorts of measured approaches are almost entirely absent from the conversation. It is herein that the true intentions of those pushing such radical intervention are made clear. Note how these bans are almost never pursued through pathways that involve elected officials or public votes? They are cropping up in the judicial system, they are being enacted by executive order or pursued through the vast regulatory schemes of the country. How many legislators have introduced legislation to curb vaping, faced public comment, and garnered the votes to have it passed? How many elected officials, particularly those in tenuous seats, would have such strong moral conviction regarding the dangers of vaping to be willing to stick their neck out and risk losing an election over it? If this were truly a crisis, wouldn’t it demand forthright and earnest investigation? Wouldn’t it be worth taking some extra time to flesh out the data and understand truly what is going on? Wouldn’t it be important to make abundantly sure the costs of any intervention do not outweigh the benefits? Wouldn’t be important to consider the public appetite for such interventions? Of course it would. This is precisely why this sudden call for frenzied and misguided action is so suspicious.

Regardless of whether or not vaping is a beneficial or highly detrimental activity, individuals are the ones who should decide what to do about it, not government. Like with smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, gambling, or even getting behind the wheel of a car, there are inherent risks to vaping that an individual must be allowed to choose whether or not to assume. Nobody is being forced to vape. If a given person does not want to vape, they do not have to. If a parent does not want their child to vape, they should take it upon themselves to supervise their child and educate them of the dangers associated with it. The notion that society is in such a degenerate state that government must intervene to stem the “epidemic” is ludicrous. There is no need for more penalties, fines, statutes, codes, taxes, or regulatory bans. Whatever crisis exists can be handled rationally and strategically.

Perceiving the world forever from the Midwest. Always looking to learn something.

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