Vaping is big business, but it's still early enough to snuff it out: Today's talker

USA TODAY

In an effort to get young people to give up e-cigarettes, President Donald Trump said this month that he will seek to ban the sale of flavored vaping products.

You don't have a right to smoke

By Bill Cotterell

Why is vaping legal?

Did someone in a position of authority decide we need a high-tech, new way for people to kill themselves and possibly create a major public health disaster?

The sale of e-cigarettes is big business, but it’s still new enough that we could snuff it out. It’s different with tobacco, which dates back centuries and is an accepted — more like tolerated — habit for millions of Americans.

But having seen the destruction of lives, and the multibillion dollar health care costs of cigarette smoking, do we need an industry whose main consumer benefit is that it makes you smell bad only until it kills you? Will we have massive liability lawsuits against vaping companies 10 or 20 years from now, as we did with cigarette makers 20 years ago?

Vaping

Does anyone doubt that if tobacco were discovered yesterday and cigarettes were just now coming on the market, the Food and Drug Administration would permit their sale? How many smokers have you met who wish they had never started — compared with how many nonsmokers who say they’ve always wished they had tried tobacco?

If you’re wondering, I smoked for 10 years, quit after numerous unsuccessful attempts, and I don’t know how I kicked the habit. I just got lucky. Once states started passing clean indoor air acts about 15 years after I quit, and I realized that we don’t have to go around in a haze of other people’s smoke everywhere, I became very much anti-smoking (not anti-smoker — there’s a difference).

Talker: New York Times essay on Brett Kavanaugh never should have been published

I believe the tobacco industry should be treated like any other business — any other business that markets dangerous addictive drugs to children, lies about it, and passes along the resulting medical expenses to the government in the form of Medicaid costs. In other words, since it’s too late to stop production, we should sue, tax and regulate the companies out of existence.

That won't happen with tobacco, but it's not too late with vaping.

Anti-smoking advertising and punitive taxes, along with price hikes caused by billion dollar court judgments against tobacco companies, have driven adult smoking rates down to about 14% nationwide, the lowest ever recorded. 

Vaping among teenagers, by contrast, increased from 20.8% to 27.5% between 2018 and 2019. There have been seven deaths attributed to vaping, as well as hundreds of serious lung afflictions

Vaping an electronic cigarette.

The White House is considering a ban on the sale of flavored vape products, and some states have already taken that step. But is there a certain number of deaths and lifelong injuries we need to record before we just force the product off the market entirely?

Some commentators draw a false comparison to assault weapons, asking why we should ban vaping but not the guns used in mass murders. Well, like it or not, there is a constitutional protection for keeping and bearing arms, which lawyers and lobbyists can argue over. There is nothing in the Constitution assuring the right to sell smoke — or, if you prefer, vapors.

Opponents of a ban argue that vaping is a useful alternative to tobacco, helping smokers kick cigarettes by substituting a less dangerous vape gadget. That’s like saying a small-caliber pistol is better for playing Russian roulette.

E-cigarettes weren’t invented to help tobacco users step down to something less destructive. They were invented to hook teenagers and adults on a product that offers no benefit and a lot of risk. 

Some will argue about big government and the nanny state telling us what to do. Prohibition didn’t work with alcohol or marijuana, and it won’t keep counterfeit or homemade vaping devices away from kids.

Sadly, vaping won’t stop completely until the kids decide it’s uncool. Adults can’t make something not cool in clothing, music or anything else we did when we were their age.

But at least with alcohol and other drugs, we try to prevent use by minors. The efforts to get fruity flavors off the market and raise the legal purchasing age are a step in that direction, but a better solution would be to just stop the manufacture and sale of these new poison-delivery systems.

Bill Cotterell is a retired reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat, where this column originally appeared

What others are saying

Sally Satel,  USA TODAY: "The considerable health benefits of vaping by adults who cannot or will not quit smoking is largely accepted by the medical community. ... Removing flavors is bad for adult smokers. There is little question that some adults will switch back to their Marlboros and Kools if their preferred flavors are no longer available. Surveys of adult smokers show the vast attraction of switching from cigarettes to a vaping device that uses nontobacco flavor. As for youths, everyone agrees they should not vape. However, one of the biggest concerns — namely, that teen vaping leads to teen smoking through a so-called gateway effect — is greatly overstated."

The New York Times,  editorial: "Based on existing evidence, most doctors and scientists think that e-cigarettes are probably safer than regular cigarettes. But exactly how much safer is still anybody’s guess. The only way to know for certain is with a thorough and impartial vetting of these products. ... It’s been three years since the FDA gained jurisdiction over e-cigarettes. It’s past time for consumers to know whether these products will truly help them quit tobacco and whether such benefits outweigh the potential risks."

Megan McArdle,  The Washington Post: "(A) Puritan streak ... still runs through American culture — especially the U.S. public-health community, which often epitomizes the aphorism that drinking would be seen as a virtue, rather than a vice, if only the hangover preceded the intoxication. One gets the sense that many public health experts think that ex-smokers should atone with ascetic self-denial, rather than a pleasurable substitute. One also senses that their long tussle with the tobacco industry has created a Pavlovian aversion to anything that even resembles smoking. So instead of harm reduction — which they might be quick to suggest for opioid addicts — they advise politicians to restrict vaping as much as possible, even if that means more deaths from cancer, stroke and lung disease."

What our readers are saying

To keep kids from vaping, the same rules that apply to cigarettes and alcohol need to be applied. Vape shops self-police very effectively. It's the corner store where someone's cousin or brother works that sell indiscriminately to minors.

— Andrew Kleinwaks

Adults like sweet things, too. Obesity has become the No. 1 killer in America now, why not ban Hostess or Little Debbie? They market to kids.

— Gregory Mahar

While there have been only seven deaths that have been identified, that does not mean there haven't been more. And it definitely does not mean there will not be more in the future.

— Bill Wayne

Maybe we should actually base any ban on facts? Let the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) determine where the problem lies and act on that. ... Keep the knee-jerk politicians out of the decision. 

— Jerry Schull

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Vaping is a public health disaster in the making. Just ban it already.