Should North Dakota Taxpayers Be Footing The Bill For Anti-Vaping Activism?


Here’s a principle that is a cornerstone of my thinking about governance: It should be neutral.

What I mean by that is public policy should be applied dispassionately. How we feel about the law, our philosophies and emotions and preferences, belong in the political process. They should be expressed in campaigns and at the ballot box, as well as in the legislative process, but nowhere else. Once our representatives have been elected, and the laws created, we should all follow the law.

It is not the place for government employees to take sides on policy issues. That should be left to lawmakers and other elected policymakers. There should be no room for activism beyond that.

Unfortunately North Dakota voters – who were largely unaware they were doing it, I think, bamboozled as they were by a misleading 2008 ballot measure campaign spearheaded by Heidi Heitkamp – crossed that bright line by creating the North Dakota Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy. An organization better known as BreatheND.

This is not a private advocacy group. It was created by Measure 3 on the 2008 ballot, with voters diverting North Dakota’s share of the tobacco class action settlements to the group, and it also receives appropriations from the legislature as one of the many, many departments of our state government.

In other words, state dollars are funding activism. Case in point, this article in which the group’s director Jeanne Prom – a rabid anti-tobacco crusader who at times seems to fall only a little short of prohibition icon Carrie Nation’s saloon vandalism on the zeal scale – rails against vaping or “e-cigarettes.”

The occasion for the article is a new state law going into effect on August 1 which prohibits the sale of vaping products to minors under the age of 18. Reputable retailers were already declining such sales, and there’s no evidence that an e-cigarette is any more harmful for a kid than a can of soda they can buy freely, but vaping looks like smoking so in the eyes of blinkered zealots like Prom it had to go.

And it’s not like there were a lot of people who were going to stand up for kids vaping anyway.

But what is irritating about Prom’s position is her knee-jerk condemnation of vaping in general. To wit:

But the benefits of e-cigarettes are still up for debate, and Prom said one of the biggest concerns is that there are no federal regulations placed on the products.

“There is no assurance if what the label says is what you get,” she said. “Sometimes, these products are made overseas and the ingredients are listed in a foreign language. It is like the Wild West as far as new products go.”

She said some contain toxins aren’t safe and there have been documented cases of children ingesting that liquid.

“Nicotine juice is sold in enticing flavors and in bright colors that make the product appealing to kids,” Prom said.

The only people who are still debating if vaping is an improvement over smoking are people like Prom who make a living from fighting smoking and don’t want to lose their jobs as smokers move to vaping. If anti-tobacco prohibitionism was really about public health people like Prom would be embracing vaping as a much healthier alternative.

But they’re not. Because their real priorities are control, and saving their activist jobs.

Which would be fine if Prom weren’t on the state’s payroll. She is literally fighting a product that might allow thousands of North Dakota smokers lead healthier, longer lives and she’s doing it on the taxpayer dime.

That’s a travesty. Most people have an expectation that public health employees deal in facts and truth. People like Prom deal in activism and ideology. She should be doing it from the private sector.

The 2017 legislative session will mark the first session at which lawmakers can undo what voters did on the 2008 ballot in creating Prom’s department. Let’s hope they take note.