May 30, 2018

Who’s the Worst Anti-Vaping Politician?

In the latest example of national politicians flogging a supposed “school vaping problem,” two Democratic U.S. Senators have sent letters to school superintendents across Illinois asking for anecdotes about vaping in their schools.

“Today, @SenDuckworth and I sent letters to high school and middle school Superintendents across Illinois requesting information on student use of e-cigarettes and vaping products, such as the JUUL vaping device,” Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said in a tweet.

The letters are as much a position statement as a request for information. “Over the past few years, there has been an alarming increase in vaping or electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) use among high school students nationwide,” they write. “In Illinois, 27 percent of high school students now use these products.”

Of course, they mean to say that 27 percent of students have tried an e-cigarette — many probably just one puff. Analysis of CDC teen vaping data from 2015 — the high-water mark for teen vaping — shows just 0.3 percent of never-smoking teens were frequent vapers. That’s 3 of every 1,000! And teen vaping actually fell from 2015 to 2016.

“From aggressively marketing cigarette and tobacco products near schools, to shamelessly using cartoon characters to entice children, and producing their tobacco products in kid-friendly candy and fruit flavors, it is no secret that big tobacco companies will stop at nothing to hook young people on their addictive and dangerous products,” they continue.

“To help combat this alarming public health scourge, we have pressed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to expeditiously regulate these e-cigarette products and remove kid-friendly flavors from the market,” they say. “We have also supported federal awareness efforts to educate the public about tobacco harms.”

Durbin and Duckworth’s letters are just the latest installment in the massive coordinated attack on vaping that began early this year with hundreds of planted stories about JUUL, and has led to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s highly publicized series of enforcement actions — demanding details on product development and marketing from JUUL Labs, and issuing warning letters to e-liquid manufacturers using dubious labeling strategies.

Additionally, the FDA has signalled its intention to restrict or ban e-liquid flavors, and the agency has been sued by several tobacco control groups for not moving quickly enough to restrict the vaping market. Those same groups produced an attention-grabbing study that supposedly proved JUUL is a massive threat to youth.

Sen. Schumer is the Energizer bunny of the vaping panic.

All along the way, Democratic senators have been using each news story to demagogue the “vaping problem” in a very Trump-like way. In fact, this is Durbin’s second time around attacking JUUL. The first time he led a group of senators sending JUUL an accusatory letter, and also sent a letter to the FDA demanding action.

Durbin’s a slacker compared to Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer though. The man never gets tired of scoring cheap political points on the backs of ex-smokers. He usually picks a Sunday to hold a press conference, and issues a companion press release decrying the horrors of vaping and demanding a ban. And he does it often. Sen. Schumer is the Energizer bunny of the vaping panic.

“This e-cig nicotine laced liquid could have very serious implications on adolescent development and health,” Schumer told a crowd of dozens at a recent press conference. “That is why it is high time to ramp up the pressure on and by the FDA so quicker action to rid the marketplace of kid-friendly e-cig flavors is taken.

“While the FDA has thankfully begun to move on this epidemic, those actions are slower moving compared to the wildfire spread of e-cig use among kids, and we need to catch up,” warned the senator. “New York kids are in a flavor trap and it’s becoming a real epidemic now.”

Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal also held a press conference recently demanding the FDA remove JUUL and all flavored e-liquid from the market. Blumenthal has been calling for an end to vaping for years now. Remember his exploitation of “vape explosions” — battery accidents — to call for an airline ban on travel with vapes?

These politicians are trying to rack up points with voters and donors by attacking the closest thing they can find to the Big Tobacco menace of decades past. They’re jealous of long-gone anti-tobacco pols like Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. Henry Waxman, both of whom got a lot of attention and praise for their part in the tobacco wars in the 1990’s.

Those days are gone though. Big Tobacco remains unrespectable, but is now counted on for billions in state and federal taxes, and therefore isn’t threatened in a serious way by politicians anymore. The independent vaping industry is a better target — because it really is teetering on the edge of extinction, and not many people vape or know vapers.

JUUL is a threat because it’s a rapidly growing company that is converting a lot of smokers and cutting into cigarette sales.

Vapers don’t tend to write their Congressional reps and senators, and they don’t have a lot of money or contribute it to politicians, unlike the special interest groups that fight against vaping. Parents are worried about all the teen vaping stories, and most people have seen news articles hyping the weekly vaping propaganda studies.

Those things make vaping an easy mark for opportunistic politicians. And that won’t change until vapers either take the problem seriously, or there are a lot more vapers. JUUL is a threat because it’s a rapidly growing company that is converting a lot of smokers and cutting into cigarette sales.

JUUL threatens cigarettes, and cigarettes are the golden goose. Not only do they provide tax revenue, but the tobacco companies are the necessary foil to the massive set of interconnected special interests we call tobacco control. Rather than being a societal devil that must be exorcized, Big Tobacco is more like a pet demon for tobacco control — a mascot they pretend to hate, but can’t survive without.

The new vapers with their JUULs may be surprised to find out that their elected representatives would prefer they go back to smoking. Will they do something about it, or at least something more than vapers have done up till now? Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer, and Richard Blumenthal are betting vapers won’t do anything at all.

Smokers created vaping without any help from the tobacco industry or anti-smoking crusaders, and vapers have the right to keep innovating to help themselves. My goal is to provide clear, honest information about the challenges vaping faces from lawmakers, regulators, and brokers of disinformation. I recently joined the CASAA board, but my opinions aren’t necessarily CASAA’s, and vice versa. You can find me on Twitter @whycherrywhy

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