Count us fans of the Food and Drug Administration’s historic push to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes, which, in concert with a proposed ban on menthol-flavored cancer sticks, promises to liberate millions of Americans from deadly addiction. Cigarette smoking is responsible for nearly a half-million deaths in America per year, a fact easily forgotten amid understandable attention to COVID-19’s carnage and the opioid epidemic. It’s the tar and carbon monoxide and other chemicals in burning tobacco that kill, but it’s the nicotine that keeps smokers smoking.
A parallel FDA crackdown on some vaping products — most recently manifest in its demand that Juul products be removed from the U.S. market — rests on far shakier ground.
Vaping is not good for human health; no teenager should get hooked on any addictive substance if the government can help it. But federal regulators live in a world of alternatives, not absolutes, and by every measurable indicator, vaping remains much healthier than lighting up a burning cigarette and drawing in the smoke, and can help people quit.
An intelligent nation will not simply shout at OxyContin and heroin addicts to drop their pills and syringes; it will offer them medication-assisted treatment and safe-injection facilities where, in addition to being connected to services to help wean them off the drugs, they can use safely without dying of overdose. Similarly, the proper response to men and women spending thousands of dollars a year to damage their lungs and hearts is not just public education, but safer and carefully regulated alternatives.
With a smoking and vaping age of 21, manufacturers should be strictly prohibited from enticing impressionable young minds to use their products — just as Juul was a few years ago, before it largely fell out of favor with teen consumers. But for adults looking to quit a legal but lethal habit, the FDA must remember that these products have real utility. Let them vape.