In just a few years, vaping has surged among teenagers and others. By some estimates, as many as 1 in 4 teens has vaped, which shouldn’t come as a surprise when vaping products are marketed in flavors like strawberries and cream, watermelon and root beer float.
After initially saying he would back a ban on most flavored vaping products, President Donald Trump backed off after meeting with industry lobbyists and being told that such a ban would be unpopular with his base. Then he held a reality TV-like meeting Friday in which vaping advocates and opponents got into a shouting match. What the White House will decide remains unclear.
In reality, a ban on flavored vapes, and a limited one at that, is only a start.
The American Medical Association has called for a complete ban of all vaping devices, except for those approved by the Food and Drug Administration for assistance in the cessation of smoking tobacco. Such products would be available only through prescription.
On matters not related to the economic interests of doctors, the AMA is a good barometer of the public interest, and should be taken seriously. The fact that it is calling for actions well beyond what Trump even considered shows the urgency of the problem.
The vaping industry cites two reasons for being left alone to sell flavored vaping products in easy-to-use and easy-to-conceal devices.
One is that a business of vaping retailers has sprung up and would be harmed by restrictive policies. This should be of little import compared with the urgent public health need. In past addiction epidemics caused by anything from street cocaine to prescription opioids, policy makers have sometimes steered away from the most restrictive policies on grounds of efficacy, but rarely out of concern for the “industry” affected.
A second rationale — vaping as a way to quit smoking — has more validity. Surely, however, this can be done without flavors such as candy, mint and fruit that are purposefully meant to create a new generation of addicts.
It’s true that a federal ban wouldn’t put an end to black market products such as marijuana oil cartridges that contain vitamin E acetate, which have been linked to the recent rash of vaping-related deaths and illnesses. But anything that can prevent more kids from getting addicted to nicotine is worth trying and ought to be the overriding priority.