Joanne Giannini’s essay in this space yesterday points in the direction of fundamental questions our society doesn’t seem interested in asking these days — much less answering.
A former state representative, Joanne was in office during a time when state government was cracking down on smoking. She sees the rise of vaping as an as-bad-or-worse substitute cropping up and (one infers) probably deserving of the same response.
The first question is whether the rash of illnesses is actually an indication that vaping is truly dangerous. Robert Verbruggen writes for NRO that reports of “the mystery vaping disease” merit investigation and concern, but indications are that they may be highlighting a tangential, not endemic, problem:
… while a lot remains to be learned about the illness, there are strong suggestions it’s caused by bad or counterfeit products, not by normal vaping. The cases cluster geographically, and in some states they have been found exclusively among those who vape cannabis products, not nicotine. Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA director who launched a crackdown on vaping when studies showed teen use on the uptick, told KHN he suspects the problem is counterfeit pods, both because of the clustering and because the FDA inspects the facilities of legitimate manufacturers to ensure the products aren’t contaminated.
This, in other words, may be less like cigarettes, which cause disease by their nature, than like food poisoning. If that’s the case, then regulation should be less about limiting access as a way of discouraging use than about helping consumers differentiate between safer and riskier products.
Either way, the question remains what our society ought to do when the short- and long-term effects of a consumable are unknown or are known to be bad. Limiting their use by minors, who are presumed to be unprepared to make informed decisions, is an obvious possibility. But shouldn’t adults be permitted to balance the risks and rewards of these things for themselves?