No Quarter for the Nicotine Folk Devils

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Things to think about…

How can a government justify criminalizing people for using safer methods to use a legal recreational substance? This question is the centerpiece of all prohibitions against vaping, as the global outrage about the behavior grows exponentially.

India, a country of millions of smokers, just banned e-cigarettes nationwide.

“The decision was made keeping in mind the impact that e-cigarettes have on the youth of today,” India’s finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, said in a press conference. Sitharaman cites the concerns that the country is seeing epidemic levels of youth vaping, despite the fact that vaping nicotine is considered safer by much of the public health communities in countries like the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

For one, India’s “epidemic” seems to overshadow a real public health crisis. India’s ban follows a structure that is similar to other countries and jurisdictions across the world. Hong Kong banned e-cigarettes while leaving traditional tobacco products available for purchase. Australia outlaws the use of liquid nicotine. Following this trend, India has only banned e-cigarettes and left traditional tobacco products virtually unadulterated.

World Health Organization data indicates that nearly 900,000 Indians die from ailments linked to traditional tobacco product use with very little suggesting that e-cigarettes are harmful to this specific population.

In light of the recent regulatory developments in the United States, public health regulators in New Delhi responded with what seems to be a knee jerk reaction to some.

President Donald Trump, a Republican, announced that he is directing his administration to finalize rules that ban flavored e-cigarette products all over the country. Naturally, this move is not as bold as banning the entire category; however, the parallels are plentiful. Michigan and New York were the first two states to issue emergency rules that declare vaping a public health crisis. In turn, the policy responses were unremorseful actions that ban sales, in some instances, regulate the possession, and virtually purges the market of one legal product, brands, and businesses.

While we have much to dive into in regards to the New York vaping ban, this analysis will continue to build on our in-depth coverage and analysis regarding Michigan’s flavor ban.

From possible imprisonment to willful souls, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, and her declaration of a sales ban on flavored e-cigarette products is due to divide the entire state. Lessons from Australia, the coming impacts of India’s total ban, and Michigan’s experiment of broad executive power will inform many of the following brief case studies and examples documenting the concerns of consumers.

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The Michigan-India connection

Lansing and New Delhi are on the same wavelength… 

Whitmer made headlines when she officially filed the rules governing the flavored e-cigarette ban with the Michigan secretary of state. Vaping Post previously reported that her administration was taking time to determine the rules, meaning that they were to order the final rules some weeks after the initial declaration and outcry.

A legislative hearing held by the state legislature that was intended to voice both sides of the argument, for and against the ban, occurred earlier this month. During the hearing, vaping industry activists and tobacco harm reduction experts testified before a GOP-majority committee condemning Whitmer’s administration of taking knee jerk reactions.

In addition, and rightfully done, public health regulators from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), tobacco control activists, and concerned grassroots groups spoke in opposition. The hearing was certainly a heated arena, but, the sentiment was needed.

Given the fact that Whitmer has acted unilaterally in banning flavored e-cigarette products, vapers and shop owners of all political beliefs felt betrayed and forgotten.

The lawmakers present at the committee, mainly state House Republicans, voiced frustration that Whitmer utilized a broad swath power justified under the Michigan Compiled Laws and the state Public Health Code.

In my special reporting on the impacts of Michigan’s ban on public health and the economy, I highlighted that the state laws are structured in a capacity that permits the chief executive of the state government (e.g., the government) to exercise excessive executive power hen the public health justification exists.

Following a line of reasoning that staggeringly recalls the motivations for flavor bans in Michigan and other American jurisdictions, India banned nicotine-containing e-cigarettes entirely.

Here, is where we draw the shared commonalities of the Michigan and India bans. If we exclude the obvious—the vast socio-economic, ethnic, language, and population differences; both bans are out of the same drug control playbook.

Prohibition, at any scale and in any capacity, gives way for more problems. It doesn’t matter if it is India or Michigan: prohibitions will drive enforcement disparities that place at-risk populations in lesser standing through violations of the universal human rights endorsed by the United Nations.

India will ban all flavors and nicotine vaping products. Violators face imprisonment and monetary fines. Repeat offenders face more severe criminal penalties.

Prohibition automatically makes drug users into criminals.

Michigan, while only a ban on the sale, manufacture, and distribution of flavored e-cigarette products, additionally levies criminal penalties that include imprisonment and monetary fines. Under a different yet similar framework, repeat offenders will also face more severe penalties.

By comparison, both laws are built along with similar frameworks, policy justifications, and rhetoric.

“Prohibition automatically makes drug users into ‘criminals,’” argues Randy E. Barnett in a 2009 essay for the Utah Law Review. He adds: “Drug laws attempt to prohibit the use of substances that some people wish to consume. Thus because the legal sale of drugs is prohibited, people who still wish to use drugs are forced to do business with the kind of people who are willing to make and sell drugs in spite of the risk of punishment.”

Keep in mind; both of the bans in question—India, and Michigan—cite concerns related to youth vaping. As highlighted at the beginning of this editorial, India’s finance minister did just that assuming that youth use is rampant enough to declare an epidemic. This rhetoric is similar to the Food and Drug Administration (

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