By Russell Withers, General Counsel & Senior Policy Analyst. Nov. 13, 2019
It is common in public policy discussions for facts to differ from public perception. Indeed, calls for gun control ignore or don’t care about the fact that gun violence has been steadily declining for decades. Likewise, calls to increase regulations or to eliminate payday lenders because of their fees and high interest rates are seemingly unconcerned by the fact that doing so would make it more difficult for the most vulnerable populations to get credit in their biggest times of need.
Currently, this phenomenon is a growing issue with respect to vaping, the inhaling of vapor created by electronic cigarettes (E-cigarettes). Still a relatively new product, E-cigarettes have been linked to mysterious lung illnesses and death, and there is concern that teenagers are using the products at an increasing rate, which feels to many like a step backwards after years of steady decline in teen tobacco use. Such concerns have led states like Michigan, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Washington, and California to implement various restrictions and bans on E-cigarettes. At the federal level, members of Congress have urged the FDA to increase study and oversight of e-cigarettes. Numerous bills have been introduced, such as the Representative Suozzi’s (D-N.Y.) “vaping tax,” which specifically taxes liquid nicotine. The vaping tax recently passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee on a 24-15 vote. In Rep. Suozzi’s own words, “[i]ncreasing the cost of vaping will have a direct correlation to decreasing the usage of vaping products.”
While injuries and teen use are concerning, there are key facts being ignored in this rush to judgement over vaping products. For example, among the more than 1,400 reported pulmonary injuries and 33 deaths, the majority of these injuries have been attributed to products contaminated by cannabis, which the FDA has warned against. Indeed, the CDC recently released a report detailing numerous data points indicating that the majority of vaping-related illnesses can be traced to THC products, including illegal products. A 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey indicated that most young people who vape report having vaped marijuana or THC. More recently, the CDC found that vitamin E acetate, an additive to cannabis and THC products, was present in all 29 lung fluid samples taken from patients across 10 states during its investigation of recent lung diseases, which adds more evidence to the likely conclusion that black-market products containing THC are responsible for most of the reported injuries.
Also important are the benefits that e-cigarettes provide to individuals using them as an alternative to combustible cigarettes or as a stepping stone to quit smoking altogether. A recent study in France found that e-cigarette use is associated with a significantly higher decrease in the number of cigarettes smoked per day and an increase in attempts to quit smoking. However, among former smokers, vaping was associated with higher rates of relapse. Indeed, like many products that aren’t healthy, there are positives and negatives.
And it’s true. Vaping is bad for you, and still addictive, but the evidence points to it being a better alternative to burning tobacco. Dr. Michael Blaha of Johns Hopkins Medicine explains that traditional cigarettes contain 7,000 chemicals, and “there’s almost no doubt that [e-cigarettes] expose you to fewer toxic chemicals[.]” There are also a number of clinical studies showing that smokers who switched from cigarettes to vaping experienced “both subjective and objective improvement in their lung function.”
The debate over vaping is coming to Texas. Senator Jane Nelson recently shared a story on Twitter about people in Denton County contracting the strange lung illness seen elsewhere.
Senator Nelson is absolutely right to be concerned about children and vaping. In addition to the known risks for everyone, there is evidence that vaping can be even more harmful to adolescents with still developing brains. The Legislature has a responsibility to make sure that these products are not marketed to children, and that everyone knows the products are not harmless.
Texas has a good reputation for taking a reasonable approach to regulation and public safety. It’s what differentiates us from the aforementioned “ban” states. As policy makers debate proposals to regulate vaping and e-cigarettes, they should do so with a clear understanding of the underlying facts and how the products are used. Like many products legally available in the marketplace, there are dangers associated with vaping, but calls to ban the products outright are an overreaction.