Brandon Arnold

Meanwhile some of these same busybody lawmakers are also employing pressure tactics on Walgreens, Rite Aid, and the trade association representing chain drug stores to emulate CVS by no longer selling tobacco products in their establishments. Though e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, the Senators have labeled them as “tobacco products” previously so it’s safe to assume that they would like to see e-cigarettes banned from television, government property, and drug stores.

What’s more, there’s another smell of hypocrisy in the air, as the lawmakers’ letter to the drug stores also recommends “increasing access to tobacco cessation devices.” If the Senators’ goal is harm reduction, they should promote, not discourage the use of e-cigarettes.

A study conducted in Italy showed that over half of smokers experienced a 50 percent reduction in the use of combustible cigarettes when e-cigarettes were offered as an alternative. This is highly encouraging news for public health advocates. For those concerned about the adverse health impact of e-cigarettes, the previously mentioned R Street study found e-cigarettes had the same trace amounts of carcinogens as other quitting aids already approved by the FDA (gum, patches, etc.) In reality, the risk posed by e-cigarettes appears to be on par with the smoking cessation devices these Senators are trumpeting.

It seems fairly clear that e-cigarettes offer smokers a much safer alternative to traditional cigarettes that can help them significantly reduce their smoking habit (which is why taxing them like combustible cigarettes is also a terrible idea). Yet Senators Durbin, Blumenthal, Brown, and a handful of their colleagues seem intent on stamping out e-cigarettes wherever they possibly can.

There may be a legitimate role for the government to play here – for instance, working with retailers to ensure that nicotine products aren’t sold to minors. But these Senators are going far beyond prudent rulemaking by leaning on television networks and private stores to do what they think is best – even if their demands aren’t supported by scientific evidence. If they legitimately are looking for ways to improve public health and reduce the use of conventional cigarettes, they should find the rapid growth of e-cigarettes encouraging. If they are merely grandstanding, we’d be better served if they’d simply butt out.

Brandon Arnold

Brandon Arnold is Vice President of Government Affairs for National Taxpayers Union where he oversees the organization's advocacy on both the federal and state level.