Amid all the hubbub and fearmongering related to e-cigarettes, Iowa has a refreshing voice of reason. It’s someone onlookers see as an unlikely champion for alternative nicotine delivery systems.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has made tobacco control and consumer protection the keystones of his long career. Miller played a part in the historic Master Settlement Agreement established in 1998, binding cigarette manufacturers to pay billions to state governments and prohibiting companies from marketing to youth.
More recently, Miller and his office have built connections with e-cigarette manufacturers, such as the popular Juul brand, in support of their efforts to curb e-cigarette use among minors. That struck some critics as a strange alliance.
“The relationship is especially surprising given Miller’s past as an anti-cigarette crusader,” Vice journalist Allie Conti wrote in an August news article that harshly criticized Miller’s support of the vape industry.
In reality, the Miller-Juul crossover should be no surprise at all.
Cigarettes have been called the deadliest consumer product in human history, and e-cigarettes have great potential to mitigate harm caused by nicotine. Anyone who has worked as hard as Miller to disrupt the cigarette industry should fiercely embrace e-cigarettes.
“It has the potential to disrupt the tobacco industry as we know it, but more importantly is the lives,” Miller told The Gazette’s Michaela Ramm. “We could do enormous good among adults by having them switch (to e-cigarettes). That’s a big driver for me and it continues to be a big driver for me.”
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Last month, Miller sent a letter to the Trump administration about governments’ ongoing efforts to regulate e-cigarettes. The letter provides a point-by-point rebuttal to some of the most misleading claims made by anti-vape alarmists.
On the recent rash of vape-related illnesses, Miller provides some important context. The latest figures show about 1,600 cases, but with an estimated user base of 14 million Americans, that is not a huge number. What’s more, the outbreak has been almost entirely contained to the United States, even though vaping is common in other countries.
The chief cause of the illnesses is cannabis oil from the black market, but officials have been reluctant to rule out nicotine-only products as a cause because some of the afflicted deny they use cannabis. Miller wisely attributes this to misreporting by users who, quite understandably, fear the repercussions of admitting illicit cannabis use.
On teen use, Miller casts doubt on the “vaping epidemic” storyline promoted by the media. While many young people try e-cigarettes, a tiny portion — perhaps less than 1 percent — of high schoolers are regular vape users with no history of tobacco use.
Politicians’ preferred response so far has been to restrict access to flavored vape liquids, which supposedly are uniquely appealing to minors. Miller warns about the unintended but predictable consequences of such policies — people would make risky concoctions of their own, illicit and foreign sellers would flourish through online sales, and many users would go back to smoking cigarettes.
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