America’s heavyhanded vaping clampdown was always going to happen

Christopher Snowdon 27th Sept ’19

It is now several weeks since people started being hospitalised with ‘vaping-related’ lung injuries in the United States. The epidemic has slowed considerably in recent days, but it is said to have claimed the lives of at least 11 people and made hundreds severely ill.

Partly in response to the outbreak, Walmart has stopped selling e-cigarettes. The billionaire nanny statist Michael Bloomberg has put up $160 million to fight vaping. The states of Michigan, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island have banned all flavoured e- cigarettes except ‘tobacco’ and menthol.Illinois and California are among the states considering a similar ban, and a nationwide ban may be looming after Donald Trump complained that ‘people are dying’ (although he later appeared to backtrack on this).

The industry is taking the heat; the US crackdown has so far wiped $7 billion off the market value of the tobacco firms that own some of the biggest vaping brands.

The media still refers to the problem as a ‘mysterious vaping-related illness’ and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) continues to play dumb, saying that it has ‘not identified any specific e-cigarette or vaping product (devices, liquids, refill pods, and/or cartridges) or substance that is linked to all cases.’

This is disingenuous. The cause of the problem has been obvious from the outset. In the vast majority of cases – and in some regions every case – the individual has admitted to using illegal THC vape cartridges. THC is the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis and is illegal in most states. As is the way in illegal drug markets, suppliers cut the product to make more money. Cutting THC fluid makes the product visibly watery and so thickening agents are needed to bulk it back up.

In recent months, Vitamin E acetate has been used as a thickening agent. Inhaling Vitamin E acetate into the lungs can cause lipoid pneumonia, a potentially fatal disease with symptoms that match those reported by those who suffer the ‘mysterious vaping-related illness’. Case closed. Or so you might think. The CDC accepts that most of the individuals involved admitted to vaping THC before becoming ill, but refuses to exonerate conventional, legal, nicotine vaping on the basis that some of them did not.

This leaves two possible explanations. The first is that there is something terribly dangerous about conventional e-cigarettes that cannot be explained by science. Despite being used safely around the world for over a decade by tens of millions of people, it turns out that they can severely incapacitate and even kill otherwise healthy people almost overnight. These dangers have only emerged in certain parts of the USA in recent weeks and just happened to coincide with a spate of hospitalisations involving exactly the same symptoms that were caused by people vaping illegal THC cartridges.

The second possibility is that the handful of people who have been hospitalised with ‘vaping-related’ lung injuries but who deny vaping illegal THC are not telling the truth, presumably because they do not wish to confess to a crime. Almost unbelievably, a large section of public and political opinion in the USA leans towards the first of these scenarios. A genuine public health problem caused by the black market is being portrayed as a problem of the legal market.

The solution? Turn the majority of the e-cigarette industry over to the black market. It takes wilful ignorance to draw such a conclusion. Among other things, it requires a total lack of curiosity as to why, if vaping causes acute lung disease, there has not been a single recorded case in countries like the UK where e-cigarettes have been widely used for many years, nor indeed even in the USA until last month.

The truth is that America’s vaping clampdown was always going to happen. The spate of THC-related health problems gave politicians and campaigners their Reichstag Fire and they have exploited it ruthlessly. American public health groups have never been as keen on harm reduction as the likes of Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians.

American libertarianism has always wrestled with American puritanism. The puritans have been there longer and are currently winning. Add to this the problem of US state governments being hopelessly dependent on the sale of tobacco and you have a perfect storm. The Great American Vape Panic has allowed politicians and bureaucrats to do what they always wanted to do.

And not just in the USA. Last week, the Indian government capitalised on the scare to ban e-cigarettes outright. The World Health Organisation offered its congratulations for a policy that will almost certainly lead to millions of preventable deaths. The anti-vaping vultures are circling everywhere, even here in the UK .

The whole thing has the feel of a co-ordinated effort by people who have been waiting for their moment to strike. That it all is based on a lie seems to matter no more to them than the fact that clamping down on vaping is tantamount to promoting smoking. Strange days indeed.