Is America Alone in its Vaping Hysteria?

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As the nation continues to grapple with the vaping outbreak, recently, the Trump Administration announced a ban all flavored e-cigarettes. While the ban could cost 90,000 jobs, more importantly it won’t stop the genesis of this outbreak. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), illicit substances are the culprit of this epidemic, not legal pods. The U.S. instead should take notes from how other countries regulate e-cigarettes, which could end this war on vaping.

England, which has a 14 percent smoking rate, recognizes the importance of vaping. Recently in London, two hospitals have allowed vape shops on their premises to help curb smoking, calling it a “public health necessity.” While foreign to the U.S., England understands that with 80,000 people dying annually from smoking, every person they can get on vaping is a life saved. In fact, England now boasts a lower smoking rate among teenagers at 6 percent compared to the U.S. at 8.1 percent.

But England is not alone in their efforts to reduce smoking. In France, the French High Council for Public Health recommends e-cigarettes as an effective mean to quit smoking while Canada doesn’t even classify e-cigarettes as a tobacco product.

Unfortunately, and from no help from the FDA, consumers and lawmakers in the U.S. are under the false assumption that vaping shares the same health risks as smoking. This year alone, 60,000 people posted on Twitter they were going to stop vaping because of the outbreak. While the intention is admirable the results show the contrary, as most will ditch the vape only to go back to the cigarette. 

Andrew, who’s 30-years old, took up vaping to quit smoking but has since come full circle and returned to smoking because of the misinformation. “If it turns out it is actually quite bad for your health, then why even compromise in the first place?" said Andrew.

All this hysteria could be avoided if the FDA changed its definition on what constitutes a tobacco product. Currently, anything that has tobacco or contains a tobacco-based byproduct (i.e. nicotine), falls under the jurisdiction of the FDA, which coincidentally includes e-cigarettes. It’s this ambiguity that allows the administration to ban flavored e-cigarettes.

Why should e-cigarettes even be classified as tobacco products in the first place? Nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) aren’t ruled as tobacco products, despite them obviously containing tobacco. Even Mitchell Zeller, director of the Center for Tobacco Products at the FDA, has stated that e-cigarettes are a cessation tool for smokers, and outlawing them would lead people “back to combustible tobacco products.”

If the FDA is unwilling to reclassify e-cigarettes, then it should at least realize that flavors aren’t the culprit of this “epidemic.” According to their own estimates fruit and menthol-based flavors are now equally favored by high school students at 66 and 64 percent, respectively. Based on the consumption trajectory of their trend, menthol-based flavors would take over fruit flavors by next year. By 2020, the FDA could no longer claim that companies are attracting kids with fruity flavors if menthol becomes the most popular flavor.

But given the government’s harsh record on e-cigarettes, this is just the beginning. San Francisco has already banned e-cigarettes this year, while Michigan and New York just recently announced to outlaw all flavored e-cigarettes.

Perhaps if the U.S. were to consider more efficient approaches, as England has, and treat e-cigarettes like NRTs then more people would transition off smoking. This action by the administration sets a dangerous precedent that misleads people and can become disastrous for cigarette smokers looking to quit. Unfortunately for these people, things just got a whole lot harder.

Janson Q. Prieb works on economic policy and research for the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit educational and research organization.

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