Trump’s Ban on Flavored Vaping Products Is a Dumb, Knee-Jerk Reaction

Melissa Markegard, tobacco prevention coordinator for Fargo Cass Public Health, displays a few of the vaping devices popular among teenagers. Health officials in Wisconsin and Illinois recently announced hospitalizations of more than a dozen teens and young adults related to vaping. Derek Murray / WDAY

In recent weeks we’ve seen a lot of headlines about vaping being linked to hundreds of cases of lung disease. In our region, North Dakota has reported at least one case of vaping-related lung disease, while Minnesota has seen a similar case end in death.

This has, unfortunately, provoked some hysteria.  Newspaper editorial boards are calling for a crackdown on vaping. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, is pushing a ban on flavored vaping products.

The flavor ban seems especially stupid, premised as it is on the idea that flavors are all about marketing to kids. Adults don’t like flavors? Adults don’t like fun? I realize that once upon a time Joe Camel was smoking-gun proof that the tobacco industry was targeting kids, but we live in a different time. The average video game enthusiast in America is 33 years old, and where cartoons were once only a Saturday-morning staple for children, some of the most popular shows on television these days are animated series made for grownups.

It is entirely defensible for vaping companies to use flavor to market their products to adults.

Also, everyone needs to calm down.

Remember that the vaping industry isn’t exactly new. Millions of people in the United States, and tens of millions of people globally, are vaping regularly (the U.S. is, by far, the largest market for vaping). With this going on for years, it’s only been recently that we’ve run into a few hundred cases of lung disease linked to vaping.

What’s driving a lot of the backlash against vaping is pent up resentment toward the industry from the anti-tobacco industry.

That’s not good, certainly, but in the context of the overall rise in vaping it sure seems like the problems probably lay with some common product within the vaping industry and not vaping itself. For what it’s worth, the majority of the lung disease cases involve marijuana vaping products, and the cannabis industry is (rightly, I think) pointing their finger at our country’s odd dichotomy of state-level legalization and federal-level prohibition as something opening the door to bad actors selling bad products.

What’s driving a lot of the backlash against vaping is pent up resentment toward the industry from the anti-tobacco industry. And it really is an industry when you consider how much money is involved in anti-tobacco bureaucracy, foundations, marketing, etc. With traditional tobacco use in decline, these people have been looking for a new war to fight lest they find themselves out of a job, and they want the enemy in that war to be vaping.

They want to vaping to be the new smoking, but they’ve struggled to convince the public that they represent equivalent public health threats. This recent spate of lung disease related to vaping probably looks to them like a real opportunity to change the narrative.

Maybe it will. All sorts of public policy decisions get made as a knee-jerk reaction to headlines, and the end result is usually a whole lot of money wasted and not a lot of change.

I don’t have any interest in vaping, but I do think vaping is a healthier vice to have than smoking (which I also don’t do). The vaping industry is very new, and in need of prudent regulation to help consumers better understand what they’re buying and protect them from irresponsible companies, but it would be a mistake to let media hysteria and political overreaction move us to a place where vaping is treated just like smoking.

Vaping, even with some of the recent problems, is a net gain for public health. Let’s start acting like it.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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