The media and politicians tell us there is a “crisis,” an “epidemic,” an “outbreak,” even a “catastrophe” gripping our country. Worse yet, our children — think of the children! — are caught in the middle of it. The disaster is so very disastrous that the White House is leaping into action.
President Trump has announced that his administration will move for a ban on flavored e-cigarettes. Yes, vaping. Vaping is the crisis. Vaping is what threatens to bring about armageddon if we do not act.
Leaving aside the not-insignificant question of whether the president has the constitutional authority to unilaterally ban a consumer product (he doesn’t), is this apocalyptic fervor justified? Is there really anything that might reasonably be described as a “vaping epidemic” occurring? The answer, of course, is no. Not even close.
There have been six deaths in America possibly linked to vaping — six deaths out of the more than 11 million people who report using e-cigarettes. If you’re keeping track at home, that’s a fatality rate of .0005%. By comparison, 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes every year. An estimated 128,000 people die from prescription pills annually. The death toll in both cases also represents a very small percentage, but the percentage is probably quite a bit higher than vaping’s meager .0005%. No matter how you look at it, the numbers just don’t come close to justifying words like “outbreak” and “catastrophe.” And they certainly don’t justify unconstitutional action from the president (not that anything ever could).
But the panic is even more absurd and counterproductive than it first appears. Keep in mind that the majority of the people who’ve gotten sick or died from vaping were using unlicensed, black market products. By outlawing most e-cigarettes, we are only driving more people towards precisely the kind of vaping that’s causing the problem in the first place. This is a solution to a fake problem that will inevitably cause the fake problem to become a real problem. In other words, it is exactly the kind of solution our government specializes in.
Personally, I don’t vape. It’s not my thing. I find it kind of weird, to be honest. But “kind of weird” and “not my thing” can’t in themselves justify sweeping prohibitions. My toxin of choice is alcohol. Though I drink in moderation, it would probably be healthier if I didn’t drink at all. Still, that’s my decision and my concern. I don’t need any bureaucrat to hold my hand in the liquor store and guide me towards the booze varieties that he finds most acceptable. That’s not how it’s supposed to work in a free country.
But if we are going to start banning unhealthy substances, we have a lot of banning to do before we get to comparatively mild and safe e-cigarettes. We shouldn’t start with alcohol, either: The government tried that once already and it didn’t turn out very well. The leading cause of death in America is obesity. Here we have an actual public health emergency. People are fat and only getting fatter. Yet soda and fast food — two staples of Trump’s diet, as it happens — remain not only legal, but are often marketed specifically to children. So let us confiscate all the Happy Meals and send government agents to locate and destroy all vending machines. Maybe then we can start worrying about vaping.