We can all agree that the recent trend of teen vaping is cause for concern. As a trained Pediatric nurse practitioner, I understand the harm nicotine can have on a developing adolescent brain, but attempts to ban vaping products runs an even greater risk of exposing individuals to higher risk alternatives in an unregulated black market.
The recent congressional vaping hearing appears to be a part of a larger campaign to chip away at the rights of legal adult citizens to use nicotine products. Even if those nicotine vaping products are a critical part of harm reduction by transitioning traditional tobacco smokers to a significantly less harmful product.
The recent national outbreak of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) has, no doubt, spurred lawmakers into the nanny-state mode of attempting to solve the epidemic without a full understanding of the underlying causes. After studying national and state data from patient reports and product sample testing, the CDC concluded that counterfeit products are linked to most of the cases surrounding the recent outbreak.
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) has introduced legislation that would take all flavored tobacco products off the market, including menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars and popular forms of flavored dip. Teen use of these products are at historic lows, so it leads one to wonder what problem Rep. Pallone is trying to solve.
Rep. Pallone’s bill would also have major negative consequences on the law enforcement community. This ban would create a new illegal market for illicit tobacco products, an increase in criminal activity, an increase in costs for law enforcement and ultimately a higher tax burden. Undoubtedly, this will create further tension between law enforcement and the people they are hired to serve and protect.
The hypocrisy of such a proposal is also on full display when you look at their record of supporting the complete recreational legalization of marijuana. “Let the state tax and regulate it,” Rep. Pallone said regarding legalizing recreational marijuana. Inexplicably, many of the same folks leading the crusade for the prohibition of flavored tobacco products have come out in support of recreational marijuana.
Youth use of e-cigarettes surpassed that of traditional cigarettes in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But President Obama made little to no action to address what was becoming a public health concern. In a knee jerk reaction, Democrats are attempting to take things too far and are promoting prohibitionist policies that we know don’t work and often cause more harm than good.
Innovative, market-driven solutions to helping people quit smoking have led to fewer Americans smoking and more quitting than ever before. These alternative products are not completely risk free, but they reduce the harm incurred by traditional cigarettes. Blanket bans have the potential to upend the recent gains made over the past few years and push those addicted to nicotine back to smoking cigarettes or toward dangerous black-market products.
Representative Pallone and other Congressional Democrats should focus their time and resources on the real public health concern, not on prohibiting legal adults from freely choosing to use tobacco products. Providing consumers with safe choices and increasing public awareness of the dangers associated with the risks of various products will lead to more effective results than legislative bans. Lawmakers should avoid policies that will affect millions of adults who rely on the availability of these products as a way to improve their overall health. Instead, they should embrace any and all alternatives that reduce dependency on tobacco.
Leah Vukmir is the Vice President for State Affairs with the National Taxpayers Union, a nonprofit dedicated to lower and fairer tax policy at all levels of government.