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“For every Prohibition you create,
You also create an underground”
Throughout the later months of 2019, major media outlets became awash with reports of people falling ill and dying due to vaping e-cigarettes and marijuana cartridges. Three states imposed a temporary ban on marijuana vaping products and a handful of governors alongside President Trump proposed banning all flavored vape cartridges. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker even declared a public health emergency and banned the sale of all vape products for four months.
However, not all governments responded to the hysteria with striking bans and outright prohibitions. In Pennsylvania, the Department of Public Health, which oversees the state’s medical marijuana program, released a statement both warning consumers of the dangers of purchasing illicit products and expressing confidence in the safety of cartridges made by its state-licensed producers.
Emotion seems to trump reason, especially in Governor Baker’s case. As of this writing, 805 cases of people suffering from vaping-related illnesses and at least 12 deaths have been reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite the 130 Americans who die every day from opioid overdose, and the 480,000 annual deaths attributed to cigarettes, a public health emergency was declared on the relatively small number of vape related illnesses and deaths. Those 12 deaths are genuine tragedies, but our knee-jerk response may only exacerbate the issue.
Public outcry and concern is understandable, but very rarely is proficient and righteous public policy formed immediately following a media-fueled hysteria. Hyped-up, irrational fear has a great impact on populations and their respective governments. Knee-jerk decisions create needless, wasteful spending and poor policy decisions. Outright bans expand illicit markets and potentially expose more cannabis users to pesticides, fungicides, and any number of potentially lethal chemicals.
Cannabis was originally prohibited as a result of a campaign led by Harry Anslinger and the remnants of the alcohol prohibition regime. The media reported sensationalist propaganda provided by Anslinger claiming that marijuana induced psychosis, insanity, and violence. Anslinger’s influence led to the passage of Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which outlawed the sale and possession of the plant. Anslinger’s efforts created a societal stigma which pervades today.
Legalization and its corresponding regulations are the appropriate response to vaping health concerns. It is naive to believe a government ban of a product would cease its use. As we know, the alcohol prohibition drove drinking behind closed doors and into dark places. Regulators should adopt appropriate testing policies to ensure all products are being tested for pesticides, heavy metals, and other toxic chemicals. Regulators could also require companies to include a comprehensive ingredient list on the packaging, disclosing whether the product contains synthetic terpenes or any other unnatural additives.
Thankfully, according to the CDC, admissions of patients with lung injuries associated with e-cigarettes and vaping has gone down dramatically.