Duke economist says vape bans ‘will only drive it underground’

Last autumn, a wave of mysterious lung injuries began appearing in younger vapers who were purchasing their e-cigs illegally.  The cause of the potentially deadly disorder nicknamed EVALI by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (an acronym that stands for e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury) would eventually be determined to be contraband vapor cartridges laced with a vitamin E acetate.  During the CDC’s investigation, over 85 percent of EVALI patients reported that they indeed were purchasing their THC products from the black market.

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But that did not stop governors and lawmakers in state and federal legislatures from immediately implementing bans on flavored vaping e-liquids and disposable e-cigarettes.  Their reasoning was perfectly ridiculous and equally as absurd.  Politicians like Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) repeatedly appeared on mainstream media outlets falsely claiming that banning flavored vapes would “save kids’ lives.”

The American People fell for it, hook, line, and sinker.

The vaping community already knew all too well that these conspiracy theories of Blumenthal and Romney were just fearmongering tactics designed to scare the American People away from vaping and back into the loving arms of Big Tobacco.  Meanwhile, tobacco control researchers like Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) in Washington, D.C. was appearing on CNBC and elsewhere claiming that the “bogus” outrage over flavored vapes will likely hurt more people than it will help.  In a July 16 CEI article entitled Bogus E-cigarette Panic Literally Killing People, Minton stated the following.

“Justified by the need to scare teenagers away from e-cigarettes, government health agencies and preeminent health bodies have relentlessly engaged in a campaign of misinformation, exaggeration, and outright lying about e-cigarettes. Their hope was to make vaping seem far more dangerous than the evidence indicates. And they’ve succeeded.”

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Dr. Rosalie Liccardo Pacula of Duke University appears to be agreeing with Ms. Minton, at least in part.  In a recent article published in The Hill, Dr. Pacula warns that “declaring vaping illegal will only drive it underground.”  For elected officials supposedly wanting to distract young minds from the devilish temptations of vaping, banning the e-cigs and e-liquids themselves will only exacerbate the problem exponentially.  If a teenager wants to drink, smoke pot, or vape an e-cig, he or she will find a way to do it – legal or not.

Dr. Pacula prefers a legal solution, namely effective and affordable testing practices monitored and regulated by a federal government agency.  After all, non-regulated vapes were the primary cause behind the EVALI scandal.   Teenagers – mostly – who were too young to purchase THC-containing cartridges legally were forced to find their favorite cannabis juices on the black market, and many of them quite literally died because of it. 

Politicizing COVID-19 to kill vaping

When the coronavirus pandemic first hit in the winter of 2020, the CDC knew that they looked rather foolish.  For almost nine months, they had been issuing a series of frightening press releases warning of a possible lethal “epidemic” of teen vaping. 

EVALI, officials advised, was so dangerous and so pervasive that Americans of all ages should stop using all vapor products immediately – not just the marijuana-infused types but the conventional nicotine-based vapes, as well. But when COVID-19 reared its ugly head – a REAL and TRUE global pandemic - their former claims of teen vaping as a national epidemic looked rather pale in comparison.

So, together with lawmakers like Romney and Blumenthal, the CDC began posting a new stream of public warnings. This time, instead of warning about EVALI, they claimed that anyone who vapes is far more likely to develop COVID-19.

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This, of course, is not true.  In fact, The Economist reported in May 2020 of a study conducted by scientists at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris.  According to the research, smokers “are much less likely” to suffer as severely as non-smokers from sars-cov-2 – the underlying virus that is said to cause COVID-19.  The discovery is considered a true rarity in scientific research.  Apparently, the nicotine in cigarettes and e-liquids has a positive preventative effect on the respiratory system in cases of the sars virus.

Dr. Pacula takes issue with elected officials using scare tactics involving COVID-19 as an excuse to push their political anti-vaping agenda.  And rightly so.

“Since one in five 18- to 29-year-olds reports vaping regularly, the link to COVID-19 triggered a call in Congress for the FDA to clear e-cigarette products from the market for the duration of the coronavirus crisis. 
“The reaction is understandable but short-sighted. Declaring a multi-billion dollar industry illegal will only drive it underground. It will also make the health effects of vaping even more difficult to ascertain…
“Just as we need to test more people to contain the virus, we need to know what is contained in vaping oils and test all vaping products — assessing how high a device might heat liquids put in it — ensuring their safety. That is not being done, and even minimal safety regulations won’t affect all products until August 2022.”

Vaping advocacy organisations agree with Dr. Pacula.  Banning flavored vaping products is not the solution to teen vaping, epidemic or otherwise.  Proper regulations involving testing procedures of e-liquids and disposable e-cigarettes is the better choice.

Banning vaping products outright will only force both adults and young people to locate their favorite vapes from another, perhaps more nefarious source – the black market.  And if that happens, the American People will have a lot more to worry about than EVALI. 

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