Why are lawmakers more concerned with youth vaping than opioid abuse?

In the latest installment of the youth vaping fear-mongering campaign, U.S. Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator How to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian energy Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse MORE (D-N.H.) has called the reported increase in the number of young people trying e-cigarettes as a “national crisis." Apparently, Shaheen feels the need to add more alarmism to a debate that’s already fueled by misleading research and commentary.

Shaheen’s declaration comes on the heels of her recently introduced legislation that would apply fees to e-cigarette products at a national level.

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This is a peculiar move considering Shaheen represents a state with the second highest opioid overdose rate in the country. One would think a politician would address substances that are actually killing people, not waste time and money pointing a finger at e-cigarette companies because a relatively small number of juvenile delinquents are experimenting with e-cigarettes.

Unfortunately, Shaheen isn’t alone.

Dozens of other misguided legislators across the country have introduced more than 200 bills that would regulate, tax, or even prohibit e-cigarettes.

Lawmakers in Washington State have introduced Tobacco 21 legislation and a vaping tax “necessary for public health,” due to the “youth vaping epidemic.” In 2015, more than 700 Washingtonians died from opioid overdoses.

Despite the fact that research shows sin taxes don’t work, lawmakers in Shaheen’s own state of New Hampshire are proposing draconian taxes on e-cigarettes and vaping devices. If the legislation were to pass, it would apply a 65 percent tax to all vaping devices, even those that do not contain nicotine.

Proponents claim such taxes would prevent youths from using e-cigarettes, but even if that were true, there’s no evidence e-cigarettes pose a significant public health problem. E-cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful than tobacco cigarettes.

If this well-established fact surprises you, you’re forgiven. U.S. public health officials forbid retailers from making any such claims of reduced harm, no matter how much evidence is made available proving the relative safety of these products. Meanwhile, English public health authorities actively promote the reduced dangers of e-cigarettes.

Some e-cigarette opponents claim Big Tobacco is secretly supporting electronic cigarettes and vaping devices because it wants to get kids addicted to e-cigarettes first and then eventually transition these e-smokers to more harmful combustible cigarettes.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. After the downfall of cigarettes, tobacco companies developed new products to fulfill consumer demand for safer nicotine delivery devices, including many vaping and e-cigarette products.

Instead of attacking e-cigarette products, pundits and lawmakers should turn their attention to the pharmaceutical companies profiting off of the opioid epidemic.

In March 2019 it was announced that Purdue Pharma may be granted approval of a drug that might reverse opioid overdoses. Purdue is the manufacturer of OxyContin, a prescription opioid, and the leading defendant in opioid lawsuits across the country.

In short, the company being accused of lighting the match that ignited the opioid crisis could make a hefty profit treating the very addictions its drug created in the first place.

In late March, the company settled the first lawsuit with Oklahoma, agreeing to pay $270 million. Oklahoma had sought $25 billion and estimated the crisis had cost the state nearly $9 billion.

Youth use of e-cigarettes needs to be addressed, of course, but lawmakers need to get their priorities straight. Youth e-cigarette use is not an epidemic, but the opioid crisis unquestionably is. No parent has buried his or her child because of an addiction to e-cigarettes, but thousands of parents have tragically lost their children to addictions that began with legal opioid prescriptions.  

Even though prescription opioids have been determined to be the initiator of the opioid epidemic, their existence has not been threatened in large part because of the pain many patients face who are prescribed these drugs. In other words, regulators and health-care providers keep allowing people to use deadly products because they reduce some harm: the pain facing patients.

But what about the millions of adult smokers? Why are lawmakers working so feverishly to limit their access to tobacco harm reduction products like e-cigarettes? The hypocrisy is seemingly endless.

Lindsey Stroud is a state relations manager for The Heartland Institute, a free-market, non-profit think tank located in Arlington Heights, Ill. Her organization discovers, develops and promotes free-market solutions to social and economic problems.