America has a poor record of accomplishment when it comes to blanket government prohibitions, yet that doesn’t mean lawmakers will use history as a guide in future decisions. The latest example: vaping.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has issued an executive order banning e-cigarettes. Michigan residents will have a similar ban in a couple weeks courtesy of executive action. And in Mississippi, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Hood has called for a ban on vaping devices after reports that a woman’s death in Monroe County may have been linked to vaping.
According to a Center for Disease Control and Prevention report, 530 people have been hospitalized with what is now known as Vaping-Associated Pulmonary Illness, or VAPI. Three cases have been reported in Mississippi. Sadly, nine deaths have been reported nationally.
Therefore, we are told we must ban vaping and e-cigarettes. This would just be another example of unintended consequences due to the need to “do something” rather than looking at the entirety of the situation.
First, the potential bans ignore the fact that e-cigarettes have proven to help tobacco smokers quit. Since 2007, these products have helped an estimated three million Americans quit smoking and a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that e-cigarettes and vaping devices were “twice as effective as nicotine replacement at helping smokers quit.”
The Royal College of Physicians proclaimed in 2016, “In the interests of public health it is important to promote the use of e-cigarettes, NRT (Nicotine Replacement Therapy), and other non-tobacco nicotine products as widely as possible as a substitute for smoking in the UK.” We can presume that would apply in the United States as well.
And there is a cost savings benefit from current smokers switching to the replacement devices. A 2017 study by R Street Institute found that taxpayers could save $2.8 billion in Medicaid costs per one percent of enrollees over 25 years if users switched from combustible cigarettes.
A ban also ignores the question of where current users, particularly the teen vapers lawmakers are particularly interested in saving, would turn. After all, teen vaping is surging.
Yet, sales of e-cigarettes have been prohibited to those under 18 since 2016, so minors are already turning to the black-market. That should be our first clue that bans don’t work. Because the black market is the problem, as it usually is. So far, the overwhelming evidence is the deaths and illnesses related to vaping were the result of black-market substances, such as THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, cannabis wax and oil, and bootlegged cartridges using vitamin E. Not the products adults are legally purchasing today.
So, because teens, who are already prohibited from purchasing these products, have resorted to the black market, we must ban adults from being able to purchase these products, at least when it comes to the fruit and candy flavors that most prefer (whether we are talking about teens or adults trying to kick the cigarette habit). This will only lead to a larger black market, and more illnesses, and more deaths. All the things those in favor of banning the products seemingly are trying to prevent. Or maybe it will just push more users back to tobacco products, which, coincidently, are at an all-time low among minors.
We’ve played the prohibition game before. It doesn’t end well. During alcohol prohibition, individuals made their own liquor that was often much more dangerous than what you could legally buy prior to prohibition. Today, many people roll their own cigarettes in locales that have absurdly high taxes. Again, these are often more dangerous as you can get more nicotine by leaving out a filter.
And when it comes to vaping, teens can turn to YouTube for do-it-yourself videos on raising nicotine levels. This won’t change if and when any of these proposals to regulate or eliminate vaping or e-cigarettes becomes law.
The bans won’t provide an alternative to current cigarette smokers, nor will they stop teens from vaping. Instead, they will only increase lawlessness. Hopefully policymakers will review the full situation before making hasty decisions that sound good to their political ears.
Brett Kittredge is the director of marketing and communications for the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, the state’s non-partisan, free-market think tank.