One needn’t be an anti-smoking or anti-weed zealot to be concerned about the apparent dangers of vaping electronic cigarette cartridges that have been illicitly modified to deliver THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. The unregulated addition of THC oils, as well as additives found to be toxic, to the liquid inside commercially manufactured or underground cartridges has been associated with many of the 30 deaths and 1,300 cases of lung injuries nationwide, including many among young people. Fatalities include a Pennsylvania resident and a woman in Northern New Jersey; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning people not to use any THC-infused vaping product, especially those purchased on the street.
Last month, President Trump called for banning commercially flavored vaping cartridges, the sweet taste of which is widely thought to have helped popularize e-cigarettes among the young. JUUL Labs, the manufacturer of sleek products that have become synonymous with vaping, has retooled its marketing and lobbying efforts as the backlash grows. Some conservative organizations have suggested that a ban would hurt small vaping-related businesses and public health experts warned that it would discourage vaping among smokers seeking to quit cigarettes. Meanwhile, Massachusetts imposed a four-month ban on all vaping merchandise on Sept. 24, after which other states began to consider flavored cartridge bans and other restrictions.
Amid the genuinely frightening, and in some instances, tragic stories of death and life-changing injury, along with dramatic talk about an epidemic, the urge to have the government do something can overwhelm common sense.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy last month made a logical move by appointing a task force, whose recommendations, delivered Oct. 3, range from a ban on flavored products to point-of-sale restrictions. Some of the recommendations would require legislative action. N.J. Senate President Steve Sweeney already has gone on record as supporting a total ban, and state Assemblyman Herbert Conaway, a physician, hopes a ban could be expanded to include menthol-flavored conventional cigarettes, a position held by the governor as well. The variety of approaches among these three Democrats alone indicates how politically charged the vaping issue has become ― and should serve as a signal for all concerned to proceed with caution.
That goes for people who use vaping products, by the way. Cigarette smokers and anyone who has ever been hooked on cigarettes know how powerful the addiction to nicotine ― the active ingredient in plain old vaping cartridges — can be.
They also know all too well how easy it can be for loved ones, total strangers, or those in authority to breezily suggest just saying no, while the nicotine-dependent brain is screaming yes. Similarly, history suggests that trying to scare kids from smoking or using drugs is futile if not counterproductive. But as progress toward legalizing medical and recreational marijuana continues, simply suggesting users think twice about vaping illicit THC is hardly prohibitionist hysteria, a la Reefer Madness.
Given what is currently known, an outright vaping ban seems counterproductive. Forcing vapers who are addicted to nicotine to go cold turkey may lead them to even more dangerous illegal products. Or legal ones, like cigarettes.