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Rantz: King County treats e-cigs as more dangerous than heroin

Under threat of federal intervention, manufacturer Juul vowed to stop selling most flavors for e-cigs. It will end social-media advertisements of the product, too. FDA and public health officials argued it leads to higher numbers of teens using the product.

But one King County public official wants an outright ban, all while the county pushes ahead with heroin injection sites. Yes, that mango flavored e-juice warrants an outright ban, but heroin addicts should be given a space to shoot up. What wonderful priorities, right?

The way the county approaches their concerns about vaping, makes it seem like they consider e-cigs more dangerous than heroin. Perhaps they should rethink their public approach since it’s safe to assume they’d freely admit heroin is more dangerous.

Relying on “anecdotal” evidence of a rise in vape use by King County teens, Lisa Davidson, who manages substance use prevention of Seattle Public Schools, recently told KUOW that “new, cooler, sleeker products” is getting teens to vape, after some years of decline.

This is getting people like Scott Neal, the tobacco prevention program manager for Public Health Seattle & King County, to promote an outright ban of all flavored nicotine cartridges because, he says, they attract kids. Never mind that millions of adults use this tool as a way to end their tobacco habit, which is considerably more unhealthy.

Unhappy with companies being able to voluntarily pull — or not pull — flavored cartridges from the shelves, Neal wants government intervention. In other words, he wants the threat of prosecution and/or crippling financial fines to get a company to do what he wants, so he can spend less time doing his job: educating the public on the dangers of nicotine use.

His position is alarming and hypocritical, given the county he works for positions heroin injection sites as “safe” for the users.

Shaky data to begin with

If you’re going to use data to push forward such alarming federal intervention, you should, for starters, have more solid data.

There’s no doubt that some teens use vaping products, but the Surgeon General uses a remarkably vague question to claim a “dramatic rise” in teen vaping. The only thing that’s dramatic is the Surgeon General’s ridiculous claim.

To get to their upward trend, they start by showing a huge spike in those who used e-cigs in the last 30 days. This is throwaway data, particularly for teens: experimenting once, as teens are apt to do, is not dangerous nor indicative of long-term use (or, for that matter, any future use at all).

Next, to show “Trends in past-30-day e-cigarette use” they count a youth who tried it once as the same as a youth who is a daily user. They don’t offer a breakdown. Surely, if 99 percent of the users tried it once or twice and gave up, this wouldn’t be a problem at all. And, by the way, the percentage of past-30-day users is just 16 percent for high schoolers and 5 percent for middle schoolers.

An inconsistent argument

Use Google to find out whether e-cigs are safer than traditional cigarettes and you’ll quickly find many government health agencies and nonprofits change the question to whether or not they’re “safe” instead of “safer.”

UNSPLASH

For example, under the title “Is Vaping Safer than Smoking Cigarettes?”, the National Center for Health Research sneakily responds “Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are being marketed as the ‘safe’ new alternative to conventional cigarettes” and “The big questions are: Are they safe?  What does the FDA think about them?” Yeah, well, that may be their big question, but I wanted a comparison between the safety of the two.

Now, contrast this messaging to how we discuss heroin injection sites locally, which was originally given the moniker “safe” injection sites. It’s not that they’re safer than unsupervised heroin use (which they are), but that it’s “safe” (it isn’t).

Go to the King County Health website on e-cigs, and you’ll see a focus on cessation. Indeed, their mission is: “Promoting healthy people and healthy communities through effective cessation efforts, and preventing tobacco use, nicotine addiction and exposure to secondhand smoke.”

On the many web pages covering substance abuse, you’ll see a bunch of social justice language like, first and foremost, “Equitable access” to their programs and “Culturally and ethnically competent care.”

While King County Health focuses exclusively on the dangers of e-cigs, making nicotine seem incredibly dangerous (it is not, it’s more addictive than dangerous) with a talking point about kids being exposed to it (only 21 in 2015). It strongly pushes the idea that e-cigs don’t get people off cigarettes — indeed, it gets people into tobacco!

They don’t, however, focus any energy on “harm minimization” when e-cigs are “low harm,” can prevent 6.6 million people from premature death (if they otherwise smoked) and is, in fact, a promising tool in cessation.

When discussing heroin injection sites? How many times have we heard officials speak of “harm reduction?” They have a whole web page for it.

A lazy effort on e-cigs

While no one wants teens to use e-cigarettes — though if I can’t stop them, I’d certainly want them picking a vaping product over tobacco — calling for a ban is just outright lazy.

Yes, anti-cigarette laws played a role in cutting down the number of smokers, what helps the most is education, which requires your time and money. It’s much easier to go for a ban, rather than actually have conversations with youth about the potential dangers of e-cigs. It’s certainly cheaper to ban a product than spend money on wide-reaching media campaigns.

But does this laziness shock anyone? It shouldn’t in King County.

It’s harder and more expensive to treat a heroin addict. So, instead, officials want them to shoot up under supervision. Given e-cigs are markedly safer than heroin — and tobacco — perhaps we can start a safe-inhalation site for teen e-cig users where they can vape under the supervision of a professional who can tell them the dangers of the mango-flavored habit?

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday mornings from 6-9 a.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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