San Francisco Flavor Ban
Vaping safety is one of the most contested topics in public health. Flavors have not only been implemented but have become deeply embedded (I’d say inseparable) from vaping as a whole. In the wake of predatory teen-centric marketing from the Tobacco industry, cities have begun to ‘fight back’ to protect their children. The San Francisco flavor ban is the latest, but everywhere the fear is the same: flavors are allowing vape companies to poison our children.
The underlying thought is this: cigarettes cause cancer and other terrible health afflictions, people who smoke are trapped in a slow death by the highly addictive nature of nicotine, companies who sell these products know how terrible they are but only care about their own greed, nicotine is in vape fluid, so therefore we can assume both the health and corporate moral issues from processed tobacco are present in vape. Associative fear is powerful. We don’t have time to understand the whole world, so knowing which things are scary and then extrapolating out is a very helpful technique. Though there is enough credible research out there to prove to anyone willing to search (www.PubMed.gov for peer-reviewed studies, and https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/news/rcp-statement-e-cigarettes for UK stance on vaping are good starts) that the above assumption is wrong, I would like to focus on how flavors specifically are seen as a problem.
At the core of our debate about flavors is the perception that smokers are essentially drug addicts, and, true to addictive behavior, they continue ‘using’ even in the face of increasing consequences (monetary costs, health issues, negative public perception). In an effort to curb manufactured cigarette intake we have focused more and more on this narrative. Kids are crying and begging their parents to stop, to no avail lovers lose their mates, and people become trapped in a behavior that they desperately want out of, yet are incapable of escaping. This narrative is true, and it is scary, yet it is not the only narrative cigarettes have. More importantly, this narrative does not accurately describe nicotine, and since lots of vape flavors have ZERO nicotine- it does not in fact extrapolate to vaping correctly. Just as there is a discrepancy between an alcoholic and people who have weekly or daily beers with friends, there are many people who casually smoke, or have smoked and quit no problem. Also, there are people, like me, who have coffee and enjoy its simulating effect, but don’t have to have it daily , and others who are actually caffeine ‘addicts’ (destroying adrenal function, screwing up necessary sleep cycles, yet unable to stop intake). The point is that if you look at only the worst examples, you can make a case against ANYTHING (food addicts, sex addicts, exercise addicts). If we are honest, every medicine is toxic, and even nutrients have toxicities at certain levels.
Bans are for things that have NO value. They are not to be taken lightly and should not be instituted without a thorough scientific discussion. This is our nations philosophy: we as citizens have the freedom of choice, and a ban is the nemesis of choice. If we look honestly at nicotine, you will find that it is a mild stimulant (much milder than Adderall and Ritalin, substances we currently give to children), and there are many cognitive studies that show its behavior in the body is very similar to caffeine (again, PubMed.gov as an unbiased source). If we decouple our view of vaping from cigarettes (combustion changes the chemistry so much, it absolutely needs to be decoupled), and shift it to that of coffee or energy drinks, we can see a clearer picture of what we want as a society and how schizophrenic we are being.
Many cultures value nicotine, the way we value only caffeine and alcohol. Vaping is being pummeled so badly under the baggage of cigarettes and the tobacco industry, that the fight to keep flavors has centered around how they help people quit cigarettes. There is some innate assumption that we are not allowed to enjoy nicotine, and, if we are one of these so-called ‘nicotine addicts’, then we just need bare bones dispensing methods to give us our fix. This is far from the truth, and unfortunately vapers (still carrying the shame of being a smoker) begin to buy into this also. The idea that nicotine has NO value is then used to strong arm the public into self-defeating legislation. Some may say alcohol has no value, but it does have value (psychological and physiological), that’s why humans have spent so much of their history perfecting it. We value a delicious craft cocktail or beer, both for its taste and its effect. The ideal is that most people will only have a couple and not binge drink, but if someone is an adult and they don’t endanger others, then its their choice. We certainly don’t force people who want a drink to have a small shot of moonshine only. Having a s’mores mocha frappe isn’t consider weird, and coffee drinkers aren’t told “If you want caffeine why don’t you just put flavorless drops of extracts on your tongue?”. People GIVE THEIR KIDS CAFFEINE all of the time as a TREAT!! Many give their teens a ‘special’ alcoholic drink every now and then, long before they are 21. Many people who are worried about their kids using nicotine as teens, have often been giving them Coca Cola or Starbucks since they were young, along with little sips or exceptions for alcohol. We obviously value these things while understanding their toxicities. Yes, there are people who want to ban caffeine and alcohol, but we are a nation of FREE PEOPLE, and we know that if we do not have choices over our body and our psychology then we have lost our very existence.
For the vaping community to move forward, we need to step out of the shadow of cigarettes (which, by the way, casual smoking is very unlikely to cause health problems). We need to stop going to bat on our knees, waiting to be hit with the ball so we can take a walk to first. We need to start a new narrative, one that includes everyone, one that is confident in our LEGAL RIGHT to make choices and enjoy our existence, and one that protects the most vulnerable of us: kids.
This ban is going to make deeming regulations look like a walk in the park. We need all companies and vapers to take this seriously. Please join the discussion below and leave a comment on this issue facing the free vape community. Also join all the discussions on social media and in real life.
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