Op-ed: Blowing smoke on e-cigs

  • By Rich Lowry
  • Wednesday, May 11, 2016 1:22pm
  • Opinion

Down through all the millennia that mankind has smoked tobacco, no one would have believed (or even imagined) that a battery-powered contraption with no tobacco would one day be considered a tobacco product.

We’ve long had smokeless tobacco; now we have tobaccoless tobacco. This conceptual breakthrough is the work of federal bureaucrats who are bringing the regulatory hammer down on e-cigarettes in a misbegotten extension of the war on smoking.

The Food and Drug Administration has issued new rules so onerous that they will likely suppress the manufacture of e-cigarettes and kill off small companies making them. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell hailed the action as “an important step in the fight for a tobacco-free generation” — never mind, of course, that e-cigarettes are tobacco-free.

The problem that regulators and so-called public-health advocates have with e-cigarettes is that, unlike nicotine gum or patches (which have proven ineffective as substitutes for smoking), they are a simulacrum of actual cigarettes. People puff on them and emit clouds of aerosol. For all that the experts want to reduce smoking, they can’t abide the idea that people might do it by consuming nicotine in a pantomime of old-fashioned smoking.

It is a strange country that is simultaneously moving to legalize marijuana and to crack down on vaping. But here we are.

There is no doubt that cigarettes are a great cause of human misery; they kill almost 500,000 people a year in the U.S. This is why e-cigarettes, with their potential to diminish smoking, could be a boon to public health.

They deliver nicotine without the truly harmful part of cigarettes, the tar and chemicals. Regulators purport to fear what is still unknown about e-cigarettes, while ignoring all the evidence that they are vastly safer than analog cigarettes (if cigarettes were only nicotine, they wouldn’t be so problematic). It’s like trying to prove to environmentalists who hate all fossil fuels that fracking is safe.

The FDA is evidently operating on the basis of a regulator’s reverse Hippocratic oath: First, do harm to a burgeoning industry — then hope to find some evidentiary justification for it at some later date.

The new rules are crafted so that every vaping product currently on the market will have to go through an onerous FDA review process. Any new products will have to do the same. The American Vaping Association maintains that submitting an application will cost more than $1 million and take more than 1,700 hours. The regulatory burden will swamp small companies that lack the resources to pour into compliance costs. (The big tobacco companies, in contrast, will be fine.)

The small firms have driven innovation in e-cigarettes. The products have gotten better, with more variety, since their introduction in 2007. That’s manifestly a good thing. The more satisfying e-cigarettes are, and the more they replicate the real smoking experience, the more likely it is that smokers will switch over, or at least use fewer cigarettes.

The highly respected Royal College of Physicians in Britain gets the logic. It issued a report emphasizing the enormous promise of e-cigarettes, which it estimates are 5 percent as dangerous as the real thing. An authority who worked on the report explained to The New York Times that e-cigarettes “have the potential to help half or more of all smokers get off cigarettes. That’s a huge health benefit, bigger than just about any medical intervention.”

The U.S. is rejecting that common-sense approach to harm reduction. It is against vaping no matter how safe it is or how many people it might coax into giving up smoking.

The famous line attributed to Mark Twain is that nothing is as easy as quitting smoking — he’s done it thousands of times. Of course, Twain didn’t have the option of vaping. If the FDA has anything to say about it, neither will anyone else.

Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.

More in Opinion

Homer Foundation
Point of View: Reflections on the Russia I know

My heart goes out to the people of both countries.

Anette Coggins poses for a photo in the Kigluaik Mountains north of Nome, Alaska. (Photo provided)
Point of View: The boldness of honesty

The phrase: “Family and friends smell like fish after three days” is not far from true

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speaks during an interview at the Juneau Empire on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)
Honoring the fallen — and caring for veterans

Alaska has lost servicemembers in conflicts ranging from the Battle of Attu to the Global War on Terror

Opinion: The dangerous combination of guns and conspiracies

The hatred that’s crept its way into American politics is new. The violence it’s spawned is newer yet.

Jodi Taylor is the board chair for Alaska Policy Forum. (Courtesy photo)
Private school, state reimbursement: family choice

By Jodi Taylor Alaskan parents have a legitimate right to choose the… Continue reading

Opinion: It’s time for bold action to protect our fisheries

Our fisheries feed the world and sustain our unique cultures and communities.

The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: Hard to fill positions?

Paying poverty wages to support staff, secretaries and custodians is unacceptable yet routine behavior by our district

A copy of the State of Alaska Official Ballot for the June 11, 2022, Special Primary Election is photographed on May 2, 2022. (Peninsula Clarion staff)
Choosing a candidate – Who will best represent us in D.C.?

Voters are encouraged to do homework before casting a vote

Tourists watch as one of two cubs belonging to an 18-year-old sow black bear crosses the path between groups of tourists visiting the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Tourists have pushed us to critical mass in parts of Juneau

I don’t go to the glacier in the summer now to hike or watch bears.

Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships. (logo provided)
Point of View: A few ideas for Mental Health Awareness Month

What are some things you can practice this month and subsequently apply to your life?

Sens. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, left, and Robert Myers, R-North Pole, read through one of 41 amendments submitted to the state’s omnibus budget bill being debate on the floor of the Alaska State Senate on Monday, May 9, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Opinion: The Alaska Senate’s foolish gamble

“All these conservative people just spent all our money”