Not for the first time, the future of vaping in America is uncertain. On this occasion, the vape industry has been plunged into chaos following an announcement from President Donald Trump. His statement that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would soon put out “very strong recommendations” concerning flavored e-cigarette use has come as a shock. Trump’s move follows successful efforts from Michigan lawmakers to prohibit flavored vape juices just this month. New York state has also voted to ban most flavored e-liquids. San Francisco has banned e-cigarettes altogether.
Reasons given for these vaping bans are varied. They include products being too accessible and inviting to minors, and more recently a spate of mysterious lung illnesses that have been linked to vaping. But are these arguments credible? And even if they are, could prohibition of flavored e-cigarettes trigger a slew of unintended consequences?
What’s causing the recent vaping controversy?
The big media outlets have recently been picking up on the dangers of vaping “fake” cannabis cartridges. These products have become prevalent in recent months and have been linked to an obscure lung illness and a handful of deaths.
It seems clear that these illnesses are the result of counterfeit vape juices. These don’t just contain marijuana extract, but other ingredients that are used as carrier oils. Such cartridges are essentially “bootlegged,” and a serious concern to the public health.
However, it must be stressed that these health concerns are due to vaping bad quality, or even fake products. These problems have not come from standard nicotine, cannabis or CBD vape juices. Many brands even get their products checked by accredited laboratories, and then publish the results. The worry is that these news stories about dangerous cartridges will be used to spread misinformation about vaping. This could make vaping sound more risky than it is. That would be a disaster for the industry, and it’s not all that unlikely.
There are a lot of anti-vapers out there who don’t believe in harm reduction techniques, which present e-cigarettes as a safe alternative to smoking. Their view is that it replaces one unhealthy addiction with another. But this dismisses the fact that millions, who would otherwise smoke, are now vaping instead, and enjoying a healthier lifestyle because of it.
Protecting vaping is not just crucial for our personal freedoms, but to not take away an option that has been life-changing for many. Any move against regular vaping should come only if there is comprehensive clinical evidence showing that vaping is bad for public health. Right now, the science suggests the opposite. Hopefully those in positions of power will recognize this, and make sensible policy decisions going forward.
What has the FDA said?
The FDA’s announcement on vaping earlier this month shocked many people. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar plans to “clear the market of flavored e-cigarettes”. The stated goal is to curb the youth e-cigarette epidemic. Azar also spoke about not letting flavored e-cigarettes be an “on-ramp to combustible cigarettes or nicotine addiction.”
Government data shows that more than 25 percent of high school kids have vaped in 2019, with the numbers rising considerably year-on-year. Companies such as JUUL have been criticized for making their products too attractive for children. Azar called out flavored e-cigarettes that are “child-friendly,” such as bubblegum and mint. For now, the vaping ban is only intended for these kind of products, and tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes will not be restricted. But Azar warns even tighter restrictions may follow if the data shows that minors start using tobacco-flavored products instead.
But one must question whether vaping is the problem here, or if this is just a continuation of the nicotine addiction problem among our youth. If so, then vaping is not necessarily the issue. Indeed, a ban could see youngsters take up smoking instead, or even purchasing e-liquids from the black market. All of these issues need to be addressed before such a large-scale ban is enforced – especially if the vaping ban seems like a knee-jerk reaction to a moral panic.
The FDA has waged war on vaping for a while
Former FDA head Scott Gottlieb was also intent on a vaping crackdown. Azar’s 2019 announcement is a follow-up on Gottlieb’s efforts. Filing applications to the FDA for e-cigarette products has been a legal requirement for manufacturers since August 2016.
If an e-cigarette product isn’t backed up by such a document, it’s technically prohibited, and the federal government has the power to take action. However, these new regulations would allow the FDA to remove flavored vape juices from sale, without further warning. Manufacturers of tobacco-flavored products have a little bit more breathing room, and have up until May 2020 to submit applications to keep products legal.
Decoding Trump’s vaping tweets
The Trump administration has become known for its unpredictability. Therefore, trying to work out what will happen next is often a fruitless task. Shortly after President Trump’s announcement that the FDA will clamp down on vaping, he sent out a tweet striking a quite different tone.
Trump showed some support for vaping as an alternative to cigarettes, and mentioned his desire to get “counterfeits off the market,” and also to stop youngsters from vaping. On its own, this would help to settle the nerves of the vape industry – Trump clearly states that the issue is with fake products, and spoke positively of vaping, too.
So, does Trump really believe this, or is the administration up to something? As far as we know, the FDA still plans to issue tighter regulations on vaping in the near future. There have been reports that Trump has close links with the vape industry, but that the proposed ban is a surprise. Maybe the tweet is simply an effort to calm their fears.
While Trump’s Twitter account usually gives a good idea as to where his thoughts are, his tweets do not carry the same weight as actual government policy. We should certainly keep an eye on what the President has to say about vaping, but the really substantive information on a vaping ban will almost inevitably come from the FDA. That’s where our attention needs to be.
How you can help to stop a flavor vaping ban
Activism among the vaping community will be crucial to stopping a flavor ban. Thankfully, vapers are more than aware about the potential for crackdowns, and have swiftly organized to make their voices heard. A White House petition to stop President Trump from signing the flavor ban started on September 11 has already been signed more than 100,000 times. This is the threshold for a response from the White House. The petition remains open until October 11, and you can add your name to it by clicking here.
If you have a presence on social media, sharing accurate information with your friends and followers will help. Misinformation and disinformation is rife online nowadays. It’s important that a narrative which makes all vaping sound dangerous and even deadly doesn’t take hold. Vaping has helped millions. Sharing positive stories and keeping public opinion on our side is vital.
Contact your senators and House representatives. Tell them to campaign to keep flavored e-liquids on the market. It’s your democratic right to tell elected officials what you think about policy. The vaping community is large and enthusiastic. A well-organized and persistent movement could yet force a change.
Vaping has a delicately poised future in the United States. As always, there are real concerns about nicotine addiction in teenagers.We should heavily scrutinize anything that may make this more likely. Finding a way to keep flavored e-liquids away from kids should take priority over a haphazard plan to ban them. This applies even if these products are problematic. Bringing regulation to the industry so that products are safer is more logical than simply banning them.
The Trump administration still has room to manoeuvre. Until the FDA comes out with its detailed policy plans, we can only speculate as to the exact approach they will take. Hopefully, Trump’s favorable tweet about vaping is rooted in genuine support for vaping. The worst-case scenario is that it’s just an effort to pay lip service to the industry. in the lead up to a ban.