Smoking remains an enormous public health problem in the U.S. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in this country. According to some studies, more than half of longtime smokers will die from smoking-related complications. David Abrams, a professor at New York University’s College of Global Public Health, estimates that 1,300 people die from smoking every day. The life expectancy of a cigarette smoker is said to be a decade less than someone who has never smoked
As I explained here, e-cigarettes offer a partial solution to this perennial health crisis. They deliver the nicotine that attracts people to cigarettes (and addicts them), but not the tar and other carcinogens that kill them. They say “people smoke for the nicotine, but die from the tar.” A method that supplies nicotine the way cigarettes do without the tar represents a life-saving breakthrough.
Yet, key Democrats like Sens. Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin are leading the charge against this breakthrough. They base their opposition on the use of e-cigarettes (known as “vaping”) by teenagers. They argue that vaping will hook teenagers on nicotine, just as smoking always has, and that it will hook many teenagers who would not otherwise have been hooked (because they would not have taken up smoking).
Maybe yes, maybe no. But there’s no maybe about the fact that that teenagers hooked by vaping will not suffer the severe, deadly health effects produced by cigarettes. Addiction is never good, but it does not, in itself, constitute a health crisis. Many Americans are addicted to caffeine.
Great Britain seems to be taking a more responsible approach to vaping than U.S. politicians are. The Science and Technology Committee of the UK Parliament has released a report calling for, among other things, liberalizing advertising rules on e-cigarettes and increasing limits on nicotine levels.
Brexit will afford the UK new opportunities to liberalize in this area. As Philip Salter of Forbes explains, the UK is currently bound by the European Union’s regulations, such as the Tobacco Products Directive (translated into UK law via the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016). This legislation places strict limits on where vapes and related products can be advertised, prevents marketers from making substantiated health claims about relative risk, and among other restrictions forces manufacturers to limit nicotine strength.
This kind of regulation is part of what gives the EU a bad name — so bad that Brexit happened. Now that it has, Britain will be free to get on with the business of saving the lives of millions of would-be smokers.
Let’s hope it does. Let’s hope we do too.