The Stupid, Lopsided War Against Electronic Vapor Devices


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is set to pack on new regulatory muscle any day now, as the announced end-of-October deadline for new regulations against the so-called “electronic cigarette” industry approaches.

The FDA is attempting an end run around an earlier Federal court decision that shot down the agency’s attempt to ban the devices, after the FDA lost its argument that vaporizers fall into the category of drug delivery devices because they have the capability of delivering nicotine to the user.

So, instead, the FDA is seeking to regulate vaporizers under the same authority it’s been given to regulate tobacco products.

That’s stupid. But, for now, the only people who seem to care that a public health revolution in the making is on the verge of being stamped out by government sanctimony are those who’ve kicked the smoking habit in favor of vaporizers, along with a number of start-up companies – at least those that haven’t yet been bought up by the tobacco industry – that market the devices. The number of vaporizer users – or “vapers” – is surging dramatically, but it’s still paltry compared to the pervasiveness of the tobacco industry.

Writing for the New York Post today, Jacob Sullum (and a few commenters) elegantly condemned the FDA’s chicken-little attempt to demonize electronic vaping by (wrongly) associating the behavior with smoking combustible tobacco:

 Sales of electronic cigarettes have risen dramatically in recent years. Whether you see that development as an opportunity or a threat depends on whether you view the matter rationally or through a fog of prejudice that makes anything resembling a cigarette look sinister, regardless of the risks it actually poses.

… Maria Azzarelli, coordinator of the Southern Nevada Health District’s tobacco control program, recently told the Las Vegas Sun that “no one can say right now whether e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative to cigarettes.” Really? No one can say whether inhaling vapor containing nicotine, flavoring and propylene glycol, which the FDA has approved as an ingredient in food and medicine, is safer than inhaling smoke?

… [W]hy the strange resistance to e-cigarettes, which contain no tobacco and generate no smoke, among people concerned about the health hazards of tobacco and smoking? Like other activists and some politicians, Azzarelli claims to be worried that e-cigarettes will make the conventional variety seem glamorous again. “We’re very concerned that what [was] becoming passé — smoking — is now coming back,” she says.

In other words, Azzarelli and her fellow activists worry that a product whose main selling point is avoiding the scary hazards and offensive stench of smoking somehow will make smoking more appealing. That fear seems implausible, to say the least, and there is no evidence to support it.

But bureaucratic will (and, possibly, tobacco money) is on the side of overreaction. Something must be done, because, well, the kids and the tobacco tax dollars, and the eroding market share, and the tobacco lobby.

Forty-one State attorneys general sent a letter to the FDA last month, pleading with the agency to meet its October deadline on imposing restrictions against the vaping industry. They fret that the products are being marketed to kids – a risible belief. Vaporizer manufacturers can’t keep up with the demand they’ve seen from adult smokers lining up to make the switch, and the vaping market would have to mature over the course of many years before it could even afford the luxury of corrupting itself by seeking out future nicotine addicts. Customers in the here and now are already queued up around the block, taking what they hope will be their last puffs on tobacco cigarettes.

The vaporizer market is resigned to some form of FDA regulation, and has openly embraced the agency’s forthcoming restriction on selling and marketing to minors. That won’t hamper the industry, because – unlike Big Tobacco – nobody in the industry was doing that in the first place.

But they draw a line when it comes to demonizing vaporizers by applying all of the same advertising restrictions, health warnings and taxes that have grown, over decades, to encumber Big Tobacco. Their product has only nicotine in common with Big Tobacco, and that simply isn’t reason enough to hand the reins of power to government in the name of protecting their smoke-free adult customers from themselves.

One Post commenter brought the words of C.S. Lewis to bear on the government’s hypocritical and dangerous regulatory push into the vaping world – words that apply to nanny government and its executors wherever they may be found:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Personal Liberty

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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