Recent legislation aimed at giving smokers more options for harm reduction was a bipartisan effort. The Cole-Bishop amendment was a common-sense request to the FDA, which intends to wipe nearly all vaping products off the market sometime in the future if they don’t pass extensive and very expensive testing. The amendment sought to grandfather in products that were manufactured prior to the time the FDA rules were made, August of 2016. The amendment failed, mostly because of Senate Democrats. It is impossible to ignore the fact that despite one piece of bipartisan legislation, the e-cigarette debate has become a case of partisan politics.
Democrats by and large are opposed to vaping, whereas Republicans are more vape-friendly. The same side of politics that wants to give condoms to high school students and provide clean needles for drug addicts doesn’t seem to be using the same logic when it comes to reducing the risk of harm to smokers. Despite scientific evidence that shows e-cigarettes to be nearly 100 percent safer than tobacco smoking, Democrats, led by Senators Al Franken, Elizabeth Warren and others, are demanding that FDA chief Scott Gottlieb crack down on e-cigarettes. Democrats favor taxes, restrictions and even outright bans on vaping.
Conservatives like Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin see things differently, believing that adult smokers should have a choice in the products they buy and use. Johnson introduced a bill that would put e-cigarettes into their own category, separate from tobacco products. The FDA’s decision to classify e-cigarettes as tobacco products has received much criticism because e-cigarettes and the liquid they contain do not contain a trace of tobacco. The justification for the FDA deeming rule is that e-liquid usually contains nicotine that is derived from tobacco. But nicotine itself is not tobacco. It is a chemical that’s also found in foods like potatoes and tomatoes.
The reason that the Democratic Party has fallen on the anti-e-cig side of the debate may be tied to the party’s longstanding anti-smoking stance. Anti-smoking organizations like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and others have been skeptical about e-cigarettes since they first made their way from China to the U.S. market. Often falsely claiming that e-cigarettes are a product of “the tobacco industry”, many anti-smoking advocates claim that e-cigarettes are as dangerous as or even more dangerous than smoking, despite there being absolutely no evidence to support these contentions. Some anti-smokers would rather see smokers use “proven” nicotine replacement products like gums and patches, and others believe that nicotine in any form is bad and the only acceptable way to quit smoking is cold turkey. The most fervent extremists in anti-smoking/anti-vaping actually say they’d rather see people continue to smoke than take a chance on the possible harms of vaping.
The Republican Party has concerns for the rights of businesses, and belief in the right of people to make choices without government interference motivating their pro-e-cigarette stance. Indeed, Libertarians, who believe strongly in individual rights, are anti-anti-vaping. But ironically, the political left, which usually purports to believe in science and accuses the right of ignoring scientific facts on other issues, is the side that’s doing all the ignoring of science on this particular issue of e-cigarettes.
Some of the things that science has told us about smoking and e-cigarettes are:
• Six million former smokers in Europe say e-cigarettes helped them quit.
• Switching to e-cigarettes can improve a smoker’s systolic blood pressure in 12 months, possibly more effectively than medication can.
• Smokers who have asthma can experience less coughing and better lung function by switching to e-cigarettes.
With Washington now in the hands of Republicans, there is hope among vapers and those in the vaping industry that restrictions on e-cigarettes might be loosened. But the tragedy when a matter of public health becomes partisan politics is that when power switches back and forth, which it always does, the citizens could be left to suffer whenever the “wrong” side is making the rules. Improving the public health should always be a bipartisan effort.