Idealism, wishful thinking or just a cynical power grab? Whatever the motivations behind over-regulation are, strict bans tend not to work.
Human beings are a little more nuanced. If you have a desire, it's hard to shake. If you have a need, it's harder yet, and where there is a need – there is a market. Tell us “don't look over there!”, and we'll immediately want to look over there. There is of course, a strong (perhaps even moral) case to argue why vaping should be, not only legal or accessible, but actually promoted. After all, it saves potentially hundreds of thousands of lives every year in the United States. Rather than looking at those positive aspects here, instead, here's some things ‘via negativa' to consider sharing with those people, or officials, who are for strict vape bans.
The United States government is not stopping people from vaping, they are just banning people from quality vaping.
A quick glimpse at the ‘Prohibition' era in American history provides some clarity and contrast here; “..alcohol consumption fell sharply at the beginning of prohibition, to approximately 30 percent of its pre-prohibition level. During the next several years, however, alcohol consumption increased sharply, to about 60 – 70% of its pre-prohibition level.” Notably, getting a hold of such prohibited items is stratospheric-ally easier nowadays too. It has never been particularly effective to over-legislate or outright ban a popular substance. Especially in the case where said substance is actually the most viable option by most metrics. Is it cheaper? Yes. Is it healthier? Yes. Do you enjoy it as much as alternatives (like smoking)? Almost always a yes. User satisfaction with vaping is very high.
In fact, the U.S. Army and National Guard’s own studies in 2017, showed daily users reported higher satisfaction and lower risk as the main factors for choosing vaping over smoking.
Black Market Products
So, what does this mean? Well it very likely means that upcoming House Bills or the strict ‘flavor ban' won't stop people (particularly keen 18 year olds) from finding that precious e-juice. What it could mean instead is, that people find the products on the domestic black market from unknown sources. Products which may contain all sorts of unsavory to downright toxic ingredients. WXPI reports: “[A September] vote was taken in the state legislature to increase the age limit for who can purchase these products… Anker owns Wicked Vapor in Verona. In Anker's opinion, the younger crowd whose users are getting sick aren't buying vape products in stores. Instead, they are getting black market products.”
Another absolutely vital fact to mention is, the “37 deaths and 1,888 lung injury cases reported from 49 states (all except Alaska) and 1 U.S. territory” the CDC reported, were allegedly a result of vaping THC products from illegal sources. Most cases in the official studies show illicit dealers to be playing the major role in the outbreak. That might mean there is an increasing threat of bans for deaths caused by products that weren't even legal to begin with. The black market is already a massive issue and that is prior to an all-out ban. We could see these numbers rise massively if Congress have their way.
There are also a number of prominent black market vape cartridges sold to (mostly) youngsters on the streets across major cities in America. NPR reported; “86 patients — mostly young men — and 66% said they had vaped THC products labeled as Dank Vapes”. ‘Dank Vapes' is one of the common counterfeit brands in circulation currently wreaking havoc. By banning flavors, and enforcing strict regulations on products, authorities are just pushing the gaping chasm of the growing black market wider open.
State law enforcement across the country have found a thriving black market of vaping cartridges in various, sparse small operations. Many times they are in unassuming environments like a house, garage or an apartment. Many cartridges have been filled with illegal oils and consequently diluted with dangerous substances. Included, is vitamin E acetate, one of the components that health officials have suspected in causing lung disease among the ‘vape incidents' sweeping the US.
To add insult to injury, these products are sold on the street or illegitimately online for around $20 a piece. That means people are experiencing some immense health issues and in some cases, actually dying. For a quick buck. A few dollars is all it takes when products are not vetted and allowed to be processed properly, in an orderly and mature manner. People go elsewhere, and they suffer as a result.
The Chemicals Causing Harm
Some minor chemical use on products, particularly cannabis products in legal states, has been common. In areas like California, some farmers spray their plants with chemicals in order to combat invasive pests, mites and fungi among other threats to the crop. Chemicals like avermectin, myclobutanil and bifenazate are often used, and are in serious danger of being overused without any regulatory mediation or state intervention.
Exposure to overuse of these chemicals has been detrimental already. Effects in many cases even carcinogenic, resulting in symptoms like vomiting, nosebleeds, irregular tremors and even comas. Cases vary, but up to 80% of concentrated products that have been examined show signs of various pesticides, as conducted and reported by SC Labs.
A recent arrest in California highlighted just how poisonous this whole situation can become. Some counterfeit brands containing illicit THC products were recovered by police and contained 7,000 times the allowable level of a pesticide that turns into the toxic and deadly poison cyanide when heated. Cyanide is a rarely occurring, but extremely hazardous poison. It operates by essentially making the body unable to process oxygen. Oxygen, the (single-handedly) most important element necessary for human life. Just gone.
For the ex-smoker crowd, they will likely return to cigarette smoking as a more convenient option which is positioned at causing around 8 million deaths a year. The average cost difference for a smoker of a pack-a-day vs a committed vaper (with a mod and e-liquid) is around $2000 a year. So someone who vapes over smokes saves an average of $2000 a year. Couple that with the health benefits and it's a no-brainer really.
A recent study demonstrated that teens who smoke regularly are the most likely to start vaping. Only something around 1% of them who are not regular smokers tried vaping first. With regards to the flavor ban or restricted mods, this could result in irreparable harm. Restricting availability to purchase good quality, legal vape products across the board also gives smokers one less avenue to help them quit smoking.
Consumers would likely also order products (mods and e-juice) from poorly regulated markets around the world, likely increasing any chances of a health risk. There is a case to be made that the current hysteria around ‘vape incidents' is actually due to that very problem already. Bad products from countries with low regulatory standards are a huge factor. If they pose a threat now, expect that to increase post-ban.
In California; “Products sold here, including a flood of counterfeit vape materials from China, are coming under scrutiny ” and further noted, “Many sick patients said they bought vape products containing THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, on the black market, officials and clinicians said.” The main issue with terribly regulated products is the same as that with the illegal ones. If it is not legal, therefore not monitored and controlled, then it's also not available for public scrutiny. How are we ever to know what's safe in that scenario?
The Research Is Clear
Access to legal products that have had sufficient testing are not the problem here. Access to illegal cartridges and e-liquids are. If the United States government is to go down this route of heavily restricting quality products, then they inevitably push consumers to acquiring lesser ones by other means. This is actually the real danger. Instead, a good policy move would be to continue the clamp down on illicit manufacturing while promoting the use of authentic, approved and potentially life-saving vape items. We ought to be very cautious with legislation that could backfire and result in more harm than good. The road to hell is sometimes paved with good intentions.