The Fault within Attempting to Regulate Our Faults: A Case Against Regulation of E-Cigarettes:
Moral panic masquerading as strides towards improvement of public health have a longstanding heritage in the framework of American politics. America’s puritanical roots are notable and were clearly manifested in the zealous, yet expeditious legislation ushered in by the proponents of the temperance movement. However, despite the blatant hubris of the moral crusaders of the Progressive Era the prohibition of alcohol was a failed social experiment. The 21st amendment of the United States Constitution became the qualifying nail in the coffin of the moral do-gooder’s utopian dream of a staid and sober society. Ultimately foiled by the imperfect nature of human nature and human desires. The only thing a shrewd bodega owner is to do is to fulfill consumer demand for alcoholic beverages and not question the moral and health implications of its consumption. Serving consumer demand, not passing attributions about consumption habits is the job of the entrepreneur.
The object of moral impropriety shifts from generation to generation accompanied by the regulation and laws to discourage such behavior. Among the plethora of vices, we attempt to dissuade people from indulging, vaping has rose to prominence as conspicuous target. Back in 2018 acting FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb attempted to prohibit flavored E-Cigarette vapor solutions and sales of related products in convenience stores . Recently the municipal government of the city of San Francisco passed an outright prohibition on the sale of vaping products . While local governments and their constituency have the right to ascertain the adequate ordinances for their jurisdiction, there are still profound errors in such tactics. Outside of the salient fact that vendors and consumers will fully exploit any loop-holes in present law, it will not prevent consumption and sale regardless of what codes are on the books. Regulation cannot succeed in suppressing demand. The failures of prohibit and the Drug war staunchly demonstrates this axiom. Per market research vaping is a rapidly growing segment of the commercial market with growth projected “…. to reach USD 47,111.2 million by 2025, registering a CAGR of 24.9% from 2019 to 2025…”. Such estimated market growth is clearly indicative of a mass amount of consumer demand. This is only further substantiated by the 132 percent increase in sales within the 4-year period of 2012-2016 . Considering the immense amount of demand for vaping products, prohibition will only amount to a thriving black-market. Further regulations will only be fruitful in consumer and vendor behavior being direct towards seeking and exploit gaps in regulations. A fine example being San Francisco residents going across the bay to Oakland to purchase e-cigarettes and other associated paraphernalia.
A more implicit form of regulation that is designed to discourage harmful behavior is taxation. Often in the form of what is referred to in its colloquial form as a “sin tax”. The impact of such tactics is most noticeable in tobacco products, namely mass-produced cigarettes. It is estimated that as of 2016, on average 44.3 percent of the retail price of a pack of cigarettes is tax, with many states that number being a little higher . Some states are currently taxing e-cigarettes and other related accouterments at a rate of 60 percent . Should such an excessive taxation be the price of admission to indulge in a dangerous and damaging habit? It is not only the e-cigarette users that are the ones that pay for the consequences of such taxation. Washington D.C. being one of the jurisdictions where the taxation of vaping products topples even that of cigarettes as resulted in one documented business closure. Due to the establishment not being able to comply with such measures . It is one thing to close shop due to an ineptitude to properly fulfill market demand and compete in commerce, but a whole other when it is due to artificial constraints imposed by local, state, and federal governments. It needs to be considered that many vape shop owners have families to support and other obligations that are contingent upon the success of their business to fulfill. However, the zeal of the anti-vaping crusaders only sees the moral imperative of saving the average person from their worst impulses. Whether or not vaping is within the panoply of our worst impulse is still a matter of debate. Personally, I would not make myself a human guinea pig to experiment with such a relatively new and untested substance. Regardless, many former cigarette smokers that are part of the “harm reduction” community proclaim that vaping is significantly safer than traditional cigarettes . Some of these claims have been verified in short-term private studies, however, still pending substantial longitudinal results . Making any claims premature and tentative. Whether or not it is safe or safer is immaterial, it becomes a question of if we should allow adults to make autonomous decisions. Clearly the embittered anti-tobacco/vaping crusaders are requesting that the government to be the white knight to stifle a public health disaster. Utilizing excessive taxation in attempts to shape behavior, is a thinly cloaked attempted to relinquish the prospect of choice. In the same way they aim to do so with current taxes with tobacco, alcohol, and in the emerging market of recreational cannabis products.
Quite often such tax dollars are generally earmarked and allocated for specified budgetary expenditures. Typically, the collected tax dollars are said to be directed towards spending in the sector of public health care. In a superficial manner does seem to some extent noble and even a productive use of taxes collected by local, State, and federal government. There are two core issues pertaining to government funding regards of the cause. One, the government is the most inefficient distributor of resources and this has been proven gratuitously. Between the amount of overhead squandered on the salaries of bureaucrats/administrators and misallocation of collected funds, private charities are far superior. Misallocation is blatantly obvious as oftentimes the assessment of greatest need is inappropriate determined by magnitude of inequality rather than by severity of circumstances . Beyond the apparent failure of government managed allocation of funds there is also a moral component having health care funding privatized. Taxation is the extraction of an individual’s property without their consent. That is the thin line of demarcation between charity and robbery. Charity should be voluntary and not forced by state enforced compulsion which is back by either violence or threat of incarceration. Unfortunately, a disproportionate number of advocates of compulsory state sanctioned charity complain more than they actual assist. The could choose to volunteer their time, donate their disposable income to an efficient private charity, or start a charity of their own. It is easier to play the role of an arm chair moral judge from the safety of an ivory tower or intoxicated from the hostility of class envy. Despite the inherent or speculated risks synonymous with the practice of vaping, it should be taxed to fund such misguided ventures. Especially we you are confronted with the hypocritical rhetoric encompassing such policies.
The issue of sanctions and restrictions placed against “sinful” behavior has been a longstanding and ubiquitous struggle between morality and individual autonomy. From the vantage point of revisionist historical accounts, the left-wing’s virtue signaling towards saving ourselves from our most base and destructive desires be an epistemological descent of Postmillennialist Christianity. To bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth, within the preview of their beliefs a world that exhibits proper Christian ethics and deportment needs to be established. In turn, requires government intervention to enforce policies that make such a Utopian conception a reality. Over the course of time, this ideology over went a series of successive evolutions transforming into a secularized philosophy. The virtue of Science grew to replace biblical justifications as it became the preeminent dogma that the do-goers armed themselves with . Some may find such interpretations of historical events outlandish it is important to consider the connection between piety and regulation. My home state of Massachusetts, is inundated with version laws, ordinances, regulations, taxes, tariffs, blue laws, etc. It was also a state that was founded by Puritans. The heavy reliance and dependence on government in New England is potentially an ideological and philosophical residual of the regions founding ethos. This observation becomes striking when contrasting the similar marriage of state and altar that was promulgated during The Great Awakening which bleed into the core philosophy of progressive era policies . In a sense, government became a profane or secular representation Christian doctrine. Pertaining to the United States, this has always been the case. While the Founding Fathers always called for a conspicuous separation of church-and-state, their philosophy was heavily influenced by the Scottish Enlightenment. An intellectual movement greatly influenced by Scottish Presbyterianism.
While the intriguing origins have the evolution of progressive ideology is engaging and it also provides insight to their distrust of freewill exhibited by left-wing ideologues, but there is a deeper moral element to restricting and prohibiting vaping. In theory, if the variable of choice is eliminated can morality truly exist? This where the moral dimension of consumer choices and the folly attempting to shape consumption behavior comes to surface. Hypothetically, if we use state enforced compulsory laws to ensure and individual chooses to purchase kale over cigarettes the action represents the will of the state not an external manifestation of the moral attribution . Such contingencies make it impossible for a moral choice to be made . Any action contrary to the prescriptive law is subjected to violence and imprisonment. The decision making would in most rational cases veer towards the intentions of the state. Above is reflects of Austrian Economist and Libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard’s interpretation of how state compulsion relinquishes the possibility to make moral choices. These same sentiments were shared by Nobel Laureate F.A. Hayek . In all honesty, psychology even validates this perspective. Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg theorized that human morality had various developmental stages. The first of these progressive graduations is the Pre-conventional stage of morality which entailed that an individual has no moral code and that punishment is what discourages undesirable behavior versus moral reasoning . The assumption that because you follow the law you are morally virtuous that is a fallacy. In order to be moral, you need to have a choice and internal dialogue pertaining to the negative consequences outside of the paternalistic sanctions of the government. Even when faced with the moral and health related repercussions of vaping, adults have the right to poison themselves if they desire to do so. The difference being opium derived intoxicants and wine have been around since the dawn of mankind, e-cigarettes are just a new mechanism of doing so.
- Rothbard, Murray. The Progressive Era. Edited by Patrick Newman. (2017) Published by the Ludwig Von Mises Institute. Pages 333-334.
- Edited by Hendrickson, Mark W. The Morality of Capitalism: The Freeman Classics (1992) Chapter 8: The Moral Element in Free Enterprise: Written by F.A. Hayek. Published by The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc.