“Smoke signaling” (Vaping deaths)

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The latest moral panic centers on a mysterious lung ailment seen amongst e-cigarette users. In the U.S., there have been about 150 persons hospitalized in recent months with perplexing lung ailments, all of which seem to cropping up after the patients vaped.

But all evidence suggests the cause is dangerous ingredients in black market vaping devices, not with over-the-counter e-cigarettes. According to Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, “In every case where a product has been identified, the culprit was not vaping, but vaping illicit THC oil.” That means forbidding the currently-legal products will serve to exacerbate the problem.

Still, continuing the great American tradition of overreacting that we saw with comic books, rockabilly, and video games, we now have an outfit billing itself as Parents Against Vaping. One of its releases shrieked, “Our kids should not be guinea pigs for the JUUL experiment!”

No, they shouldn’t be, nor should adults be subjected to indirect harm from overzealous lawmakers. Consider one of the more severe cases, in which a Wisconsin man is laying in a medically-induced coma. He reached this unfortunate state of affairs by vaping with cartridges containing cannabis which he had purchased from an unlicensed, unscrupulous dealer. Not coincidentally, Wisconsin has some of the country’s most restrictive cannabis policies. In America’s Dairyland and states with similar stances, consumers wishing to vape with a dash of added THC are limited to illicit products that have never been tested for safety and for which the correct dosage is unknown.

Contrast that with legal products. Writing for the Foundation for Economic Education, Ross Marchand notes that “e-cigarettes, when legally manufactured, are 95 percent safer than ordinary cigarettes and are nearly twice as effective for quitting smoking as nicotine taxes or gum.”

Staying in the upper Midwest, Michigan, Gov. Grethen Whitmer stoked the manufactroversy by unilaterally imposing a statewide ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes.

Without citing a source to support her accusations, the governor chided companies for “selling vaping products using candy flavors to hook children on nicotine.” Wittmer claims there has been an uptick in e-cigarette usage by minors. But selling or providing these products to children is already a crime, so if anything, what is needed is more stringent enforcement of existing laws.

Still, the governor touted her desire to protect public health and announced she wants to shield the young from these terrible tasty temptations. But in so doing, she hampers the adults who switched to vaping as a means of ingesting a much less hazardous source of nicotine. Many of those attempting to break the habit have cited flavor variety as a vital tool to help the process.

Moreover, this is not a public health issue. That term should be reserved for the likes of vaccinations, fluoridated water, and clean air initiatives. One person permanently extinguishing e-cigarettes or even 10,000 persons doing so does not impact public health, as only the persons involved are benefited by the cessation.

And again, flavored e-cigarettes were already off-limits to the young. Hence, the governor’s decision does nothing to protect children, imposes dictates on those who are not children, and snuffs out not just e-cigarettes, but an industry that was helping its customers break an addictive and dangerous habit.

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