Several years ago, desperate smokers finally found a product that could actually help them quit. Where patches and gum failed, e-cigarettes succeeded. For the first time in history, there was a quit-smoking tool that actually worked. And while “vapers” may find it just as hard to put their e-cig down as they did the Marlboros, virtually every study has shown that their new addiction is far less harmful than their old one. Safe? Harmless? No, that hasn’t been proven, either. But when compared to cigarettes, there’s just no contest.
Now, that doesn’t mean that will always be the case. Vaping is new, and it will be years before we can make specific determinations about the effect on long-term use. It is possible, if unlikely, that e-cigs are taking a toll on user heath that won’t come to light for a long time. And if that proves to be the case, then the federal government may have cause to take action.
But what’s happening now is something different. The Obama administration is moving to regulate e-cigarettes – not based on any evidence that they are harmful, but rather the possibility that they might be. Instead of waiting until there’s a problem to solve, the Food and Drug Administration is acting on the mere “chance” that a problem might develop down the road.
The new regulations, set to go into effect in 90 days, will make it illegal for distributors to sell e-cigarette products to anyone under the age of 18. This rule alone could kill off the biggest market for e-cigarette paraphernalia – the internet. Brick and mortar stores are popping up quickly, but there are legions of vapers who buy almost exclusively from online outlets. The FDA did not specifically prohibit online sales, but sellers will be required to verify age by photo ID. When it comes to online commerce, that’s uncharted territory.
The FDA also requires manufacturers to obtain federal approval for their products if they wish to stay in business. There is a two-year grace period on this, but the expense of seeking FDA approval will likely be enough to put many “homebrew” businesses out to pasture. Again, this is in the absence of any compelling evidence that says there is something in today’s e-cig formulas harming the public’s health.
Again, this isn’t just about e-cigarettes. We should treat federal intervention like we treat criminal conviction. Prosecutors must prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If we ran our criminal court system like the FDA runs their agency, prosecutors could pull suspicious-looking people off the street and force them to convince a jury that they should be allowed to remain free.
It’s backwards, dangerous, and terrifying.