Regulation, Not Prohibition

With e-cigarette flavor bans on both the national and state level, it is important to recognize why prohibition would not work.

Jun Sung, Deputy Opinion Editor

During Prohibition, the United States banned the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol. As a result, the U.S. saw the rise of an illegal black market and an unregulated exchange. Alcohol continued to be consumed while becoming more dangerous to drink. The same phenomenon is already starting to happen in the vaping industry.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has already banned e-cigarette flavors through an emergency executive action, and President Donald Trump is planning to do so nationally as well. Opponents say a ban wouldn’t be effective, while advocates argue that it could reduce the number of people who start vaping. The truth is that an outright ban on e-cigarette flavors will lead to a public health crisis and escalate the entire situation. Legislators should learn from the events of Prohibition and aim for stronger regulations while promoting research on the effects of black market substances, rather than enact policies that will worsen the situation. 

To understand this problem, it is first important to note that the focus of the ban is misplaced. The likely cause of the recent vaping illnesses and deaths is related to bootleg THC cartridges, not flavored e-cigarettes. Though the exact reasons for why these black-market cartridges are dangerous is unknown, almost every case of illness and death is related to the vitamin E acetate contained in the products, a compound that if inhaled, can cause lipoid pneumonitis. Any prohibition-style ban on e-cigarette flavors fails to target these root issues. It will also divert attention from the worsening issue of fake cartridges, exacerbating the same problems as before. Any serious solution to vaping illnesses should focus on the black market THC industry, not e-cigarette flavors.

Recent studies have shown that vaping can serve as a gateway to smoking; reports have also shown that some vapers are responding to vaping health scares by reverting to cigarettes. There is a direct connection between vaping and smoking, and banning one will lead to an influx of the other. It is important to recognize that this type of policy will lead to an illegal industry and products that are unregulated and dangerous. These black-market substances will lead to serious health issues even larger than the problems made by bootleg THC cartridges. Basically, any ban will only lead to new, unsafe products in the hands of youth.

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Safe injection sites are a good example of why regulation is more beneficial to restraining addiction than outright bans. Studies show that these facilities decrease overdose deaths and reduce the stigma of addiction. The same idea should be applied to vaping. Strict regulation of consumption and manufacture should be the focal point of curbing vaping. Banning does the exact opposite, deregulating the sector and inflaming the problem. 

Instead of banning certain e-cigarette flavors, lawmakers should respond to the vaping epidemic with tighter regulation. This includes increasing penalties for stores that sell to underage consumers and spreading public awareness of vaping’s potential health effects. The latter has been proven to work internationally for anti-smoking groups, showing why mass media campaigns are crucial. Most importantly, however, there should be legislation on both state and federal levels specifically targeting black market THC vapes. There should also be more research on vitamin E acetate, a compound found in almost all bootleg cartridges. 

Through both legislation and research, vaping illnesses and deaths would most certainly decrease, as the policies would focus on the root issues of the vaping problem. Prohibition tactics have been proven ineffective and should be avoided at all costs.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

Email Jun Sung at [email protected]

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