e-Cigarettes and Vaping: What do we do to save our children?
Today a news article ran in the press about the City of San Francisco enacting a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes within its borders.
I took this article to Facebook and asked members of the Sterling Heights Local Politics group whether or not Sterling Heights should consider such a ban.
Most of the responses were negative; respondents overwhelmingly felt like a ban would be inappropriate.
The Surging Popularity of Vaping
Vaping, in case you don’t know, is now extremely popular with teenagers. In fact, e-cigarettes have swept through the schools of Sterling Heights and the surrounding area like a wildfire through a California August. I personally believe that more kids are vaping as a percentage than ever smoked. It is extremely widespread, and it is relatively easy to hide an e-cigarette addiction from adults.
The Sterling Heights Drug Free Coalition, of which I am a board member, lists as one of the things it focuses on as being the reduction of vaping by minors. This informs my interest.
An Appropriate Role for Government?
Is it appropriate for government to act in the interest of public health and ban a product such as this? What authority would it have to do so, and how would it be justified?
The Surgeon General has opined that e-cigarettes are dangerous to our youth, and the FDA has created the ground rules for their sale.
My instincts tell me that when enough time goes by for all of the studies to be completed it will probably be proven that e-cigarettes are just as unhealthy as regular tobacco cigarettes, and perhaps in new ways.
Can Government Protect us from Ourselves?
Bans have proven highly problematic in the past.
As a conservative I would rather go with a hands-off approach: education. Unfortunately, the people I’m most concerned about are not mature enough to make responsible decisions about their long-term health. Their brains are not fully myelinated yet, and as such their frontal lobes where risk vs. reward evaluation happens are not fully “wired up.” They cannot always make an intelligent risk vs. reward decision, and thus they fall prey to marketing and peer pressure.
Even worse, studies show that teenagers are particularly susceptible to forming strong addictions very quickly.
Right now it is illegal to sell vaping materials to minors. Right now minors still acquire and use vaping materials regardless of the law.
It’s not just nicotine!
The other sad twist vaping brings is that THC-infused vaping oils are widely available. When consumed in an e-cigarette, there is no detectable odor from what I am told. Kids are doing the 2019 equivalent of smoking pot in the classrooms of the high schools, and it is going undetected or being ignored.
Of course, being in possession of marijuana-derived stuff is illegal for minors, but nobody has yet passed a law that prevented crime from happening with 100% success; mostly laws just create consequences after the fact.
Do you make it more difficult for little Johnny or Suzy to get their hands onto these dangerous products by implementing some sort of ban? It’s being tried in California, which automatically makes me suspicious, and our collective experience suggests that a black market would quickly form and fill the market demand.
The Role of Education
That being said, I am dubious about the efficacy of education as the only approach. Certainly it needs to be provided, but as a preventative measure I think it will fall short. Kids have been taught in school since my own children were Kindergartners that cigarettes are the same as drugs. My kids are 20 and 17, respectively, so that has been happening for quite awhile.
Yet, I still see kids smoking cigarettes. I still see young adults smoking cigarettes. Obviously education is important, but it is not 100% effective in stopping the behavior alone.
Tobacco-related health issues have even been a problem for me. I was a heavy smoker when I was in my late teens to around 30 or so. I had all of the education everyone else did; I did the stupid thing anyway. So far, 21 years later, I haven’t developed cancer, but I did find out that I stunted the development of the growth of my bones, especially in my chest.
It is a little known but common effect of smoking in your 20s: you’re really not done growing yet; your body is still developing up until you’re about 25, just in non-obvious ways. So I discovered in my 40s that I screwed myself up, and there’s no going back. What will the effects be? I don’t know, but my ribs and sternum are not as thick as they should be, and I’ll probably be a fragile old man if I live long enough.
Morality and Government
I’ve been having a lot of discussions lately about the morality of the things government does. They are not easy discussions; there are particularly strongly-held beliefs that different groups of people have, and getting them to think outside of that box ranges from the difficult to impossible.
Is it moral for a government, in an attempt to preserve the health and welfare of young, vulnerable citizens, to ban something and create a black market for it, in the process enabling criminals and violence to once again have reason to enter our city?
No, it’s not. We’ve got enough crime, and the attendant pain and suffering and financial loss that goes with it already, we don’t need more.
But we don’t need any kids with lung cancer, popcorn lung, or dying when their jaws are blown out by exploding cheap Chinese lithium batteries, either.
We need to work with Retailers
In the end, the people who are against the idea of a San Francisco-style ban on the sale of e-cigarettes and the associated materials are probably right. Bans are blunt tools used in a situation where precise instruments are required.
So without a ban, should we start a campaign to persuade retailers to stop carrying these materials of their own volition?
I think so.
Does the guy who owns the 7-11 franchise down the street from me really need that revenue to keep his business afloat? Would it be a hardship for him to stop selling this poison to people who will in turn supply it to children who cannot buy it for themselves?
I suspect that 7-11 would continue to be profitable without selling JUUL cartridges. I think that if the company and others like it are at all ethical, they will voluntarily stop selling vaping materials. We need to ask them to do so, and be prepared to persuade them why it is a good idea.