The Vaping argument is going up in smoke

The government is up in arms about the “rise” in vaping associated deaths.  According to Michael Siegel of the Los Angeles Time, there have been  530 cases of “vaping-associated” respiratory illnesses, 11 of which are fatalities.  Must add that Michael Siegel is a physician and professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at Boston University School of Public Health.   Dr. Siegel is also a tobacco researcher and long time anti-tobacco advocate.  His column in the Los Angeles Times reveals the propagated ignorance of the US government by jumping on the panic band wagon without giving due process to reality.

The cry for a ban against flavored vaping e-cigarettes has reached banshee pitch without giving much thought to common sense. E-flavored cigarettes allegedly contain THC, a psychoactive compound that is found in marijuana.  Yet, states are legalizing marijuana and not the opposite.  The government and advocates against e-cigarettes do not seem  compelled to stop the legalization of marijuana, as more states vote to legalize “dope”, the hypocrisy does not accept me and should not escape you either.  Only a few years ago marijuana was public enemy number one.   My take on this argument is that we seem to pick and choose what we need to save our youth from.  They spend hours in a zombie-like state playing violent video games and the outcry is very limited.  The market economy takes care of that. Nobody seems to be getting any soul searching diaherria when kids drink flavored booze or smoke menthol cigarettes. 

There are deadlier health issues than e-cigarettes. According to the CDC, approximately 480,000 Americans die of cigarette related illnesses, and 50,000 die of alcohol poisoning every year.  Those turning to e-cigarettes, including my son, do it to quit cigarette smoking and tobacco use in general.  11 fatalities in a population of 326 million is a non-mention. More people die of obesity than vaping.  But the angst continues.

Like anything else, vaping among the youth is a fad that will probably run its course until the next best thing enters their lives. The government’s uber response to vaping is ridiculous seeing that kids always seem to find creative ways to get high or get sick. Point in fact; a few years ago some  kids overdosed on cough syrup.  Others inhaled cleaning products, while others discovered cough drops as the drug of choice.  Rubattsin, Raid aerosol, or Listerine Cough Drops have not been banned. But our local commissaries put them behind locked glass shelving.  Public health problems persist because we live in a free society where we have the unmitigated freedom to act dumb and often die from it.  But, we seem to pick and choose what we consider dangerous and to whom.

The anti-tobacco activists who become instant Stasi agents as soon as one lights up in public, seem to ignore other substance users. They don’t mind alcoholics throwing up outside bars and pubs on a Saturday night.  They don’t mind “dope” users either. All substances happen to be the poison of choice for our youth.  So what’s with the e-cigarette protection?  More kids are sent to hospital on Spring Break from alcohol poisoning than from any other substance to include cigarettes. The disproportionate response to e-cigarettes in comparison to other substances falls short of making any sense.   

Dr Siegel adds another dimension to the e-cigarette panic.  There is still no evidence that the 530 illnesses were directly related to e-cigarettes.  The smokers could have had other issues which vaporing  might have exasperated. But he threw in the social political element that always prompts a government panic. When the problem becomes a “white” issue than politicians pop their heads up in dismay. It is not an outrageous opinion or observation. Minorities, especially those of color living in poor urban areas are overwhelmingly prone to poor health and substance abuse issues, so we seem to take it fore granted and almost insidiously expect it. We do not send government agents into these areas and ban both substances.  Hell, in an act of pseudo kindness, we provide free needles to drug addicts.  The racial and economic disparity between users seems to be an important factor in raising public alarms.  When crack eventually appeared  in affluent white neighborhoods in the 1980’s, the federal government passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.

Similarly, we are currently in the midst of an opioid epidemic.  The problem is not new.  Opioid has been around since the 1970’s but we only heard the Trump administration declare it a crisis in 2017.  In the 70’s opioid addiction was mostly in poor black neighborhoods.  Now it is prevalent among whites which elevated it to a “problem”.   I do not see any heart wrenching appeal from either the far left tolerant “racist” name calling happy Democrats, or the upstanding moral majority Republicans.  Where is the cry of “racism”? Where are the righteous bible thumping evangelists?  It seems that a health issue is recognized as an epidemic only if it creeps into affluent neighborhoods.  Then we recognize it as a national problem.  We must do something.  Good families are being torn apart. What we are saying is that we accept drug and alcohol addiction and death in poor urban neighborhoods, so why bother?  We do not seem to care about the 100 gun-related deaths a day either.  We are immune to the heartache and misery in poor urban neighborhoods.  I only hear silence in the liberal “racial disparity” social justice police department. 

E-cigarettes are a reasonable and good alternative to cigarette smokers serious in quitting nicotine addiction.  The 530 cases of vaping-associated respiratory problems are minimal compared to the approximate half million people who actually die of cigarette smoking related illnesses.  I am not minimizing the plight of the 530 (.0000017% of our population) who came down with vaping lung illnesses, but perspective must be maintained.   When compared to the three quarters of a million cigarette and alcohol related deaths a year, 11 vaping fatalities is a good thing. 

Prohibition is never wise.  The US should have learned that lesson a long time ago.  Prohibiting substances raises to the surface the criminal element that preys and extorts addicts and the vulnerable. The very people we are trying to protect like our youth.  The government should use its treasure and resources wisely. The FDA should look beyond the  implications of flavored e-cigarettes.  If they are serious about substance abuse among the youth, they need to go after other substances equally if not more  dangerous like flavored alcoholic drinks and menthol cigarettes.  Banning e-cigarettes will remove a relatively safe viable transitional product for those serious about quitting smoking.  One does not need to be a genius to compare 11 deaths to half a million. As Dr. Siegel so aptly put it; “…government…ought to consider how their efforts to protect one group may come at the expense of others.” Any other flavored vices the government would like to go after? Chewing gum comes to mind.

Siegel, M. September 30, 2019.  Vaping is not the only youth problem. Los Angeles Times. Stars & Stripes.

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