Opinion

Facebook, Twitter, And Juul Are Trying To Use Government To Protect Their Profits

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Posted: Sep 26, 2019 12:01 AM
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not represent the views of Townhall.com.
Facebook, Twitter, And Juul Are Trying To Use Government To Protect Their Profits

Source: AP Photo/Steven Senne, File

There’s a common misconception in politics, a lie really, that corporations are “conservative;” that they support free-market principles. Maybe that was true at some point in the past, but it hasn’t been so for decades. Companies do hate regulations, when those regulations will hurt them, but they are fully in support of them once they’ve established a beachhead in the marketplace because it makes it nearly impossible for new competitors to emerge. The latest examples of this are in social media and vaping.

Facebook and Twitter are more than happy to weaponize government regulations now that they’re the biggest games in town. In the arena of social media, compliance with regulations will serve a couple of important purposes for these behemoths.

One, it will likely offer them some level of immunity for the content on their sites. Are Facebook and Twitter publishers or portals? This is the billion-dollar question. If they’re simply portals, a kiosk of sorts, where anyone can post whatever they want, they face no liability for the libelous content on their sites. If they’re publishers, they can be sued for allowing libelous content to be published.

Right now, social media companies are operating in an area in-between – they make value judgements about what is and is not acceptable content and ban users based on “community standards” they set based on their own opinions. They do this while claiming they have little to no say over what people post on their websites. The government has, thus far, allowed this gray area exist, offering de facto immunity from liability while they act as pseudo-publishers. So they would naturally welcome regulation going forward that protects them from their pasts.

Add to that the fact that these companies would be involved in writing any regulations – do you really think anyone in Congress has even a basic understanding of how these sites operate? – and you get a “chicken guarding the henhouse” situation.

On the vape front, there is the added element of media-created hysteria around mystery illnesses people are experiencing when they use vape products that are, shall we say, less than legal.

The vaping industry is new, and it’s saving lives (mine included). It is the most successful stop-smoking aid ever created. With millions of smokers looking every year for a way to quit (I know, I was one of them), the potential for growth and profit is limitless. That’s why vaping has taken off and vape shops have popped up everywhere.

On the manufacturing and user fronts, one company dominates – Juul.

What Juul sells is different from what you’d find in an average vape shop. They sell small, pen-sized batteries and disposable cartridges (called “pods”) filled with “vape juice.” Vape shops don’t generally carry those, they specialize in custom “mods,” battery cases where the power level can be adjusted to the user’s preference. They have small tanks on them that can be refilled with whatever flavor of juice the user feels like at any given time. Juul-type products offer a small variety of flavors, while vape shops can have hundreds.

With the current hysteria, all the moves by governments, both federal and state, have been to push bans that would impact the vape shop model significantly more than the Juul model. That would push many users off the custom vape “mods” either back to cigarettes or to Juul products.

That’s why Juul is so supportive of government intervention – their product will remain readily available in convenience stores, where they dominate sales and have Q-Tip or Kleenex-level brand recognition, which will not only eliminate vape shops, but will likely give them a larger share of the desperate-to-quit smoking market at the expense of other pod providers. 

The current push is to ban flavors politicians say appeal to children like cinnamon roll and candy, which sort of exposes this whole push as a scam. If politicians really believed vaping was dangerous and deadly, they'd ban all of it, not flavors.

Juul is actively on board with a government “flavor ban” under the guise of “protecting children.” Openly pushing for it, in fact. But they’re also working behind the scenes for exemptions for their popular flavors of mint and menthol. Menthol is a legitimate flavor; menthol cigarettes exist and are popular. There is no such thing as a “mint cigarette.” So, if flavors like cotton candy should be banned, why not mint? Kids like mint.

Well, because Juul sells a ton of mint-flavored pods.

Juul is more than happy to support bans that would harm their competitors, they’re big enough in the mint and menthol market to easily survive the loss of their other flavors. And having the biggest player in the vape market on board for a ban would make implementing one much easier. All regulators have to give them is the price Juul wants to extract for that support: a carve-out for themselves. And they’ll likely get it because that’s how regulations work.

Either vaping is dangerous or it isn’t, right? Flavor shouldn’t matter. But Juul is using its power to regulate themselves into a near-monopoly position and framing it as being responsible.

As an added bonus, the largest investor in Juul is Altria, which owns, among other things, Marlboro cigarettes. Regulations, bans, and general government intervention means they win on all possibilities.

The Facebooks, Twitters, and Juuls of the world gained market share over their competitors by offering products that won in their chosen industries, industries that weren’t hindered by government interference at the time. Now that they have control, they’re embracing government interference, even steering it, to protect themselves from liability and competitors. It is one of the biggest lies ever told that big business is anti-government, they’re more than happy to use the government as a weapon when it suits their purposes.

Derek is the host of a free daily podcast (subscribe!) and author of the book, Outrage, INC., which exposes how liberals use fear and hatred to manipulate the masses.