Staff Columnist

The war on vapes is starting to look like the war on drugs

A Juul vaping system with accessory pods in various flavors. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Bill O'Leary
A Juul vaping system with accessory pods in various flavors. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Bill O'Leary

We are witnessing the onset of a new American drug war.

Politicians and regulators are increasingly concerned with vaporizers and e-cigarettes, which millions of Americans use to consume nicotine or cannabis derivatives. As plans to address potentially dangerous vaping materialize, we can already see the new drug warriors are taking cues from their predecessors of the past century.

Officials have recorded at least 530 cases of vape injuries, including six deaths. Those deaths are tragedies, and we should seek to avoid more of them. However, the government’s response to a perceived “epidemic” may be worse than the problem itself.

The new drug war will shun evidence and pragmatism in favor of fear and snap decisions.

It’s a mentality nearly summed up in the refrain “We have to do something.”

Anti-vape advocates and their allies in the mainstream media have grossly misrepresented facts and figures about vaping — overstating frequency of teen use, distorting evidence about possible health hazards, and repeating disproved claims about the gateway effect.

There are too many examples to cover, but the stupidest and most dangerous misrepresentation has been the failure of some activists and journalists to make clear that most vape-related illnesses have been linked to cannabis products, not nicotine, and many involved illegal street drugs, not retail products.

The new drug war will be carried out by bureaucrats and executives, largely outside the legislative process.

State and federal lawmakers will take up bills to ban, regulate or tax certain vapor products, but they can’t act quickly enough to satisfy the public health alarmists. Government administrators will intervene more swiftly.

At the national level, Republican President Donald Trump is directing his administration to remove flavored e-cigarette products from the market. He is not asking Congress to make a new law.

In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced she is imposing a six-month moratorium on all flavored e-cigarette sales statewide. She acted unilaterally, and some critics in the legislature questioned her authority to impose such a ban.

The new drug war will make individual users, not just producers and sellers, the targets of government force.

Setting aside concerns over executive power, the most alarming part of the Michigan vape ban is that it makes it a crime to merely possess certain vapor products.

According to “emergency rules” published by Michigan health officials, anyone who possesses four or more flavored vapor products is presumed to intend on selling them, a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.

The idea that someone with four Juul pods is a drug dealer is ludicrous — they come in packs of four. Criminalizing drug users is a demonstrated policy failure.

The new drug war will make substance use more dangerous, not safer.

Prohibiting certain substances may make them more difficult to obtain, but not impossible.

There already is a robust network of websites and forums dedicated to making or modifying vaporizer liquids. Anyone with access to YouTube and Amazon can easily obtain the information and materials necessary to add fruity flavors to their e-cigarette juice.

The do-it-yourself method is potentially dangerous. Some of the recent vape illnesses have been linked to two Wisconsin brothers who illegally manufactured THC cartridges from a rented home.

This is the new drug war. It’s the same as the old drug war.

Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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