The vaping regulations Americans deserve

Clive Bates and David Sweanor have some advice for the new president and Congress

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Hopes are high among vapers that change is coming soon. The laws and regulations that threaten to crush the vaping industry and prevent millions of smokers from having access to a wide variety of quality vapor products need a rapid overhaul.

But if the new U.S. president and a unified Republican Congress intend to make changes to regulations for vaping and other low-risk nicotine products, they’ll need practical suggestions on how to proceed. Now they have some good ones.

Clive Bates, Eli Lehrer, and David Sweanor have published a series of policy suggestions for Congress and the new administration, specifically designed to guide the future FDA commissioner in building a modern tobacco and nicotine policy that adds harm reduction to the federal tobacco control toolbox.

Bates is a British consultant who previously ran the U.K.’s Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). Lehrer is the president of the R Street Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Washington, D.C. (which published this paper). Sweanor is a law professor at the University of Ottawa in Ontario, and a longtime tobacco control leader in Canada.

Bates describes the report as “an unforgiving but fair critique of the United States’ federal approach to tobacco policy, which we think is an unmitigated regulatory disaster.” The authors certainly haven’t spared anyone’s feelings in their criticism of the federal government’s misses during the era that began with passage of the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

The Tobacco Control Act was signed into law during President Obama’s first year in office. Since then, American tobacco control policy has been puritan, prohibitionist, anti-harm reduction, and dedicated to hiding from smokers honest information about the relative risk of non-combustible tobacco and nicotine products. It’s not working.

Tobacco harm reduction

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Bates, Lehrer and Sweanor suggest a new approach, embracing tobacco harm reduction as a primary strategy to reduce death and disease. Stop seeing nicotine itself as a danger, they suggest, and use its appeal to a large group of people to reduce the adoption of smoking, which is of course the real threat to public health.

They advise telling the public the whole truth about the risk of various nicotine products. Vaping and modern smokeless tobacco like Swedish snus are at least 95 percent safer than cigarettes. The public should know that. Consumers should be trusted to make decisions based on facts, not unproven fears that are mostly based on superstition and conjecture.

The report identifies eight specific recommendations to Congress and the Trump administration:

  • Seize the huge opportunity presented by low-risk nicotine products
  • Cancel the FDA deeming rule before it destroys the U.S. vaping market
  • Establish a standards-based regime for low-risk nicotine products
  • Use new labels to inform consumers about relative risk
  • Stop using the public health test to protect the cigarette trade
  • Restore honesty and candor to public-health campaigns
  • Refocus tobacco science on the public interest, not bureaucratic expansion
  • Challenge vapor and smokeless prohibitions under World Trade Organization rules

Each of the eight policy proposals is given a couple pages of explanation, with descriptions of where previous policy has failed and suggestions for what might replace it. The policy offerings aren’t radical; they’re not calling for regulatory anarchy. These are serious people presenting concrete advice on how to solve a real problem.

The solution involves reducing the regulatory burden on the threatened vape industry, and doesn’t kowtow to the producers of combustible cigarettes. Keep the premarket tobacco application process in place for lit tobacco, they say, but replace it with common sense manufacturing and safety guidelines for low-risk products.

We have an opportunity to save vaping from a certain death sentence.

For advocates speaking to American legislators, the paper serves as a companion piece to last year’s Royal College of Physicians report. The RCP review presents the scientific case, and the policy paper turns the science into a workable framework for legislation and regulation.

Now it’s up to us. Vapers need to keep the pressure on Congress, asking for relief from the 2007 predicate date. Visit August8th.org, and spread the word. Then the trade associations can turn up the lobbying heat, going into Congressional offices armed with a reasonable blueprint for change. We have an opportunity to save vaping from a certain death sentence. Now’s the time.

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Jim McDonald
I spend most of my time studying the regulatory, legislative and scientific challenges to vaping, advocating for our right to exist, and talking with others who do the same. Consider me a source for information, and feel free to agree or disagree with anything I say. I love good coffee and sweet Michigan cherries. My childhood hero was Gordie Howe.