FDA’s Vape Ban Is What Happens When People Legislate What They Don’t Understand

Katherine Timpf

On Thursday, the Trump administration announced that it would ban the sale of pre-filled flavored e-cigarette cartridges nationwide — which is both a terrible idea and a perfect example of what happens when government officials insist on legislating what they don’t understand.

Yes: I myself vape, and that’s part of the reason why this news upsets me. What’s more, as a vaper who has tried “open tank” systems — which the administration exempts from the ban — I find absolutely no solace in this fact, as I know from experience how fiddling with these sorts of systems often inevitably results in your hands and furniture and purses and life getting completely soaked with nicotine liquid.

My personal use, however, is far from the only reason that I am upset about this ban. In fact, the main reason I’m opposed to it is that it may, quite frankly, kill people.

See, President Trump insists that the purpose behind the ban is to “protect our families,” but the truth is, anyone who is informed on the facts of the issue would understand how it will only have a negative impact.

In case you yourself aren’t informed, here are some of those facts.

First of all, the narrative that we are in the midst of an epidemic of young kids getting addicted to vaping is patently false. Although many of them may have tried it, Julie Gunlock’s analysis of CDC data finds that only approximately 5.7 percent of teenagers — including 18- and 19-year-old adults — are actually addicted.

Another misconception is that vaping nicotine is deadly, and perhaps even worse than smoking. This also couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, experts agree that it is, at least for adults, much safer than smoking traditional combustible cigarettes. A Public Health England study, for example, estimated that it was 95 percent safer.

Many people, of course, argue this point by referring to the illnesses and deaths that were attributed to “vaping” throughout the United States in 2019. This, too, represents a simple misunderstanding of the facts. According to the CDC, the vast majority of the illnesses and deaths were due to THC vaping products — particularly those that had been obtained on the black market — containing Vitamin E acetate. In fact, when I spoke with Carrie Wade (the director of harm-reduction policy at the R Street Institute, who also has an educational background in neuroscience and pharmacology), she told me that “it would surprise” her if “any” of the illnesses or deaths were due to nicotine. She said that she believed that people who admitted only to vaping nicotine might simply be “hesitant to admit” that they had been using a marijuana product as well, especially if they were teens — because, due to the difference in the chemical properties of nicotine from those of THC, she “doesn’t see a need for the problematic type of chemical to be in a nicotine product” at all.

The concerns that vaping might be some sort of gateway to smoking combustible cigarettes, even if vaping products are still available, are equally unfounded. According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, although there has been a rise in “youth e-cigarette use,” the exact same data also shows that the rate of teenagers smoking traditional combustible cigarettes has continued to fall — which wouldn’t be the case if the vaping-leads-to-smoking theory held any water. In fact, in a Wall Street Journal piece about how Britain’s vaping policy is much smarter than that of the United States, Matt Ridley notes that “less than 1% of vapers are people who have never smoked, and there is little sign of young people taking it up faster than they would have taken up smoking.”

Without the availability of vaping products, however, this could easily change — and that’s more than just my opinion. In fact, in May, San Francisco’s chief economist predicted that the city’s ban on e-cigarettes would not impact its economy because he expected that people who had been vaping would simply return to smoking and spend their money on traditional (more dangerous) cigarettes instead.

In short: Reducing the availability and appeal of vaping products may be presented as a public-health win, but the facts show that it will actually be a net negative. Anyone with any actual knowledge of the issue understands that, which brings me to my larger point: the problem with people in our government calling for legislation on things that they, quite obviously, know nothing about.

This is, of course, hardly the first time we have seen people in our government ban, or aim to ban, things that they clearly don’t adequately understand. I’ve seen this repeatedly, for example, when Democrats talk about guns. (Such as Senator Diane Feinstein talking about AR-15s. Or Representative Carolyn Maloney calling for a ban on “massacre machine gun magazines,” despite the fact that machine guns have been banned since 1986. Or President Obama claiming that the Sandy Hook shooting was committed with “a fully automatic weapon,” when it was really committed with a semi-automatic one, or perhaps his comment that “it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book.”)

Be it nicotine or arms, the bottom line is: When our government passes laws based on the emotional whims of media and public hysteria rather than statistical fact, the American people lose. The truth is, we shouldn’t have to give up, or even water down, our Second Amendment rights because someone who, say, thinks the “AR” in “AR-15” stands for “assault rifle” says that we should. Similarly, we shouldn’t have to give up our rights as adults to make decisions about our health because of someone who thinks that children are dropping like flies because of mango-flavored Juul pods.

I understand that doing your own research takes effort, and that separating media hysteria from fact can be tedious. If you don’t want to take the time to learn, though, you shouldn’t be using whatever time you saved to legislate on something that you aren’t even qualified to discuss intelligently.

The freedoms that we have in this country are what make it such a special place, and that’s exactly why we must be concerned about them being taken away. I’m not, of course, saying that the government shouldn’t have any power. Of course it should, but it also should not be able to take away our rights without good reason — and misguided, misunderstood hysteria stemming from a lack of factual knowledge must not be allowed to qualify as such.

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