Tuesday 11 June 2019

American idiots

I haven't written about vaping in the USA for a while because the debate over there is so incredibly stupid that it's senseless to try to intervene.

Take this, for example. Anti-smoking groups want to raise the age at which people can buy tobacco to 21 because, well, they like bans. The tobacco industry says that is in favour of this policy. That has discombobulated the tobakko kontrol movement because they put the infantile 'scream test' at the heart of their dogma (ie. "the louder tobacco companies scream, the more impact we know a measure will have"). By their logic, if the manufacturers of cigarettes support an anti-smoking policy, it can't work.

Bear in mind that the Americans ludicrously define e-cigarettes as tobacco products. The Tobacco 21 policy is really an attempt to crack down on vaping, not smoking - and on Juul in particular - so you see why some tobacco companies might look kindly on it.

Jeffrey Hardesty, research program manager at Johns Hopkins University’s Institute for Global Tobacco Control, says he’s skeptical of the tobacco industry’s sudden support for Tobacco 21, noting that it “does not make amends for decades of obituaries.”

Whatever. Policies should be judged by their merits. This one is illiberal, although given that the US government treats people under the age of 21 like children when it comes to alcohol, it is harder to argue against it than it would be in Britain.

But even still, he says the laws are a good idea at their core.

How many dark nights of the soul did he have before aligning himself with the evil tobacco barons, I wonder?

Hardesty agrees that Big Tobacco’s involvement “has the markings of corporate social responsibility.” Nonetheless, he says grouping vapes and traditional cigarettes under the same regulatory umbrella is a smart strategy for improving public health.

No, it's an exceptionally dumb strategy because they are substitute products, one of which is vastly safer than the other. Any regulation designed to deter use of the safest form of a product will have a similar effect to regulation designed to encourage the use of the most dangerous form of the product.

“If you’re only applying legislation to e-cigarettes…you could drive people back to a potentially more harmful product,” Hardesty says. 

Only applying them to e-cigarettes would be lunacy, even by American standards, but I don't think anyone is suggesting that. What is being suggested is that paternalistic regulation be commensurate with the relative risks.

It doesn't take much brain power to invert Hardesty's argument and conclude that if you only apply the regulation to tobacco cigarettes, you could drive smokers towards the least harmful product. This is Harm Reduction 101.


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