Around the world, the rush is on to enact regulations covering the electronic cigarette industry. For many vaping enthusiasts, this is a time of great concern as several nations have already banned these products and others are considering regulatory schemes that could effectively achieve similar results. In the United States, the FDA is prepared to pretend that these tobacco-free products are, in fact, tobacco – so that they can justify extending their tobacco regulatory powers to include the e-cig industry. And all of this comes against the background noise of a steady drumbeat of dubious claims about the dangers associated with electronic cigarette usage.
For most products with the potential of causing harm, there is a natural inclination on the part of government officials to offer regulations as a way to ostensibly reduce consumer risk. We have been down this path many times. Cars were regulated to ensure that minimum safety standards were met. Tobacco was regulated due to concerns that smoking was harmful to the users and those around them. Still, there has been little talk about the actual consequences of regulating these seemingly safer products. So, what are the pros and cons of electronic cigarette regulations, and are these controls even necessary?
For regulators, much of the argument in favor of regulation seems to boil down to five words: “for the children” and “what if…?” As with so many other attempts to regulate consumer activity, well-meaning regulators often wrap themselves in the mantle of child protection as they try to convince the public that it needs to sacrifice its own liberty for the illusion of added security. In this instance, the FDA argues that these products need to be regulated to keep them out of the hands of minors. Of course, the regulatory advocates know that even the most diehard vaping supporters cannot argue with that goal. No one wants to encourage children to use nicotine.
The “what if…?” motivation is a harder sell, but it remains the fallback argument for most supporters of strict regulation. The argument is simple: we don’t know that electronic cigarettes actually cause harm, but we should not take the risk. After all, they say, so much is unknown. And what if today’s vaping fans are somehow lured into trying the more harmful tobacco cigarettes? In effect, some of these regulatory enthusiasts are arguing that vaping could possibly end up being a gateway to using dangerous tobacco products.
Some, like Democrat Nancy Pelosi, have even tried to link attempts to stop FDA regulation to nefarious tobacco industry influence – as she publicly stated after Democrats in the House blocked a Republican effort to exempt the electronic cigarette industry from new regulations. In that view, regulation is a necessary and welcome thing because people who are presumed to have ties to the tobacco industry oppose the expanded controls.
Finally, there are those who argue that this is just part of a broader effort to help future generations avoid tobacco use altogether. Of course, that argument does make one wonder how regulation that impedes access to devices that people actually use to stop smoking can in any way contribute to a reduction in tobacco use.
The argument against tight regulation is perhaps easier to make, if only because it relies more on actual evidence and logic as opposed to the emotional appeals offered by the regulatory crowd. First of all, the imagined harm argument is blatantly manipulative. Without actual evidence demonstrating real dangers associated with e-cig use, any attempt to argue that they should be regulated due to the potential that some harm might be discovered in the future is simply ludicrous. By that logic, all products and activities should be regulated to prevent some future, unforeseen danger. That would effectively end human liberty, but at least everyone would be safe, right?
The fact is that there is scientific evidence including observation and anecdotal reports demonstrating that electronic cigarettes are much safer than traditional tobacco cigarettes. They also produce no potential harm from second-hand smoke, as they are smoke-free devices. And it would be absurd to argue that the millions of users who have recovered from the ill effects of years of tobacco use – thanks their electronic cigarette use – are somehow all wrong.
Finally, regulation of business tends to be costly for small companies. Compliance can involve lengthy processes, licensing fees, and other obstacles that smaller enterprises cannot endure. One has to wonder why any agency would be so quick to enact policies that could do untold damage to a growing industry that is the sole source of income for thousands of Americans, and do so based on little more than imagined threats to the public safety.
The fact is that almost everyone can agree to some simple regulations. Keep electronic cigarettes out of the hands of minors. Ensure proper labeling of the products. Prevent companies from making false promises and health claims. Obviously, there is no need to pretend that e-cigs are tobacco products just to enact such common sense measures. You can read more about the upcoming FDA regulations on this article.