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EDITORIAL: Prohibition and nanny-statism the wrong approach to black market vaping problems

Orange County Register - 10/9/2019

Oct. 9--Over the past month, a vaping panic has swept the nation. While the facts underlying what happened are still emerging, one thing is clear: the proposed remedies of prohibition and restriction are probably the exact opposite of what's needed.

Over the past 15 years, millions of Americans and people around the world have turned to vaping as a means of ingesting nicotine, THC and, more recently, CBD.

The growing consensus has been that vaping is safer than smoking. While the American Cancer Society has cautioned that vaping is new and more study should be done, it cites research which has found that vaping "is likely to be significantly less harmful for adults than smoking regular cigarettes."

Given the number of people who have used vaping products over the last 15 years, and the growing body of research suggesting their safety relative to cigarettes, reports of hospitalizations linked to vaping were certainly a cause for concern. But even early on, there was a rightful suspicion that what was happening was much more complicated than vaping suddenly becoming a dangerous activity.

Recently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released key information on 514 patients admitted for health problems linked to vaping.

According to the CDC, 77 percent reported vaping THC, including over a third who exclusively vaped THC. Just 16 percent reported exclusively vaping nicotine products.

This is consistent with research published last month by the New England Journal of Medicine and the CDC suggesting that the vast majority of vaping-related cases in Illinois and Wisconsin involved a patient who used THC vaping products from "informal sources" -- recreational marijuana is not yet legal in either state (Illinois' legalization won't go into effect until 2020).

While more time and information is needed to get the full perspective, it's evident that black market THC vaping products are a if not the predominant driver of the vaping-related problems nationwide.

Yet, politicians and bureaucrats have taken the opportunity to stir up concern over all vaping products, regardless of whether there's any actual link to health problems.

States like Michigan, New York and Rhode Island have initiated bans on flavored vaping products. The Trump administration has likewise said it would ban flavored vaping products. And recently, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to ban flavored vaping products in the county's unincorporated areas.

Notice a pattern?

Pushes to ban flavored products and other vaping products are nothing new. But they've typically failed to gain any traction because there's never been much of a reason to do it, and plenty of reasons to allow their sale.

Given that the precise details of what's driving the recent surge of health problems isn't precisely known, any rush to ban anything is premature.

But since we know that black market THC products, creating more black market products is precisely the wrong move. The focus should be on products causing harm, which seem to largely be in the black market in the first place.

Public health problems such as this reveal a truth that's already been known: the black market tends to produce negative outcomes. Bans will only push operators willing to abide by the law out of the market while keeping black market, and thus risky, products on the market.

Legalizing and regulating marijuana products is the only consistent way of mitigating the risks of THC vaping products. That will likely help reduce the risk of THC vaping products in states like Illinois and Wisconsin which are experiencing problems. After all, which some states have created legal markets with regulatory systems, recreational marijuana remains illegal in most states.

And even in states that have legalized recreational marijuana like California, successful implementation of legal markets remain a work in progress. In California, for instance, it's been apparent from the beginning that California will need to scale back taxation and regulation just a bit in order to bring more people into the legal market.

In any case, banning or restricting legal vapes, including nicotine vapes, because of the harm of black market vapes is nonsensical.

We hope reason and evidence, not hysteria and nanny statism, dictate how we proceed.

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