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Mike: Washington’s vaping ban is little more than a political ploy

Vaping bans are picking up steam across the country. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

On Oct. 10, faced with 29 vaping-related deaths — a number that now has grown to 30 — Washington Governor Jay Inslee banned flavored vaping products in Washington state.

The rationale was two-fold: At the time, we didn’t know what was inside the vaping juice that might be killing and seriously injuring people.  And two, it appeared the flavored juices such as mango and bubblegum enticed teens to vape.

Today, one of every five high schoolers in American say they vape. It’s a problem. No doubt.

But ask yourself this: Why is it that Great Britain which has had the same per capita number of adult vapers as the U.S. not had a single death? And while you are at it, also ask yourself why the teen vaping rate — even with flavored juice there, remains far lower than in the U.S.? 

The answer, as it turns out, is regulation, not bans. And this is a lesson we know very well because we learned it first from cigarettes and smoking. 

Vape store struggling with sales and layoffs due to WA flavored vaping ban

In the 1950s, more than 55 percent of Americans smoked. By the 1990s, with the help of a stepped up regulation, a relentless health awareness campaign and a decline in legal advertising, tobacco use had begun to decline. But teens continued to smoke.

By the late 1990s, the Centers for Disease Control reported that 35 percent of high schoolers smoked. Every public high school in my hometown had a smoking area. But steep taxes on smokes coupled with a national public awareness campaign that targeted teen vanity — not mortality — began to take effect. 

Today, fewer than 10 percent of teens smoke cigarettes while only 14 percent of adults do. It is considered the greatest public health victory in U.S. history. 

Even so, one of every five American deaths each still can be blamed on smoking. This means half a million people a year or 1,300 people a day die from a completely preventable condition. This is more annual deaths than from vehicle accidents, alcohol, illegal drugs, suicide and murder combined.

Temporary ban on flavored vaping products approved in Washington

Then came vaping. Originally it was touted as as harm reduction solution that could reduce those deaths. It soared in popularity. And for the first few years in the U.S., led by JUUL, smokers by the thousands turned to vaping as a way of managing a nicotine addiction while not ingesting the 39 carcinogenic chemicals that hitch a ride on every smoker’s inhale. 

But what didn’t we do with vaping? Regulate it. But the Brits did. 

When vaping began soaring in the UK, the British government did two things: It limited the chemical catalysts in the vape oil (also called juice) and it strictly limited the amount of nicotine. 

This did two things: First, the Vitamin E acetate which is blamed for the injuries and deaths in the U.S. was never allowed in British vape juice. 

Second and less noticed, was the sharp restriction on nicotine, rather than a restriction on flavors. The British government restricted the amount of the addictive chemical in every milliliter of vape juice. This means the teens who vape, are much less likely to feel compelled to continue.

Many teens there try it, drop it and move on. In the U.S., with completely unregulated nicotine percentages — also led bu Juul and its patented nicotine salts — kids vape, get addicted and continue vaping into adulthood. 

The restriction on flavors isn’t the answer. And we know that.

But for regular adult smokers, when the chemicals in the juice are regulated, vaping is objectively WAY safer. No major health official says otherwise. 

The Washington state ban on juices is a mildly effective political ploy. But as a health matter, it’s all smoke. 

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