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Reader: Why I Oppose Any Ban on Vape Flavors

I'm a former smoker and currently using a vape as a nicotine delivery system (NDS). I had my first cigarette at fourteen. It wasn't a menthol, just a standard tobacco cigarette. I didn't do it for the taste; hell, I remember coughing like a madman, so I definitely wasn't doing it because it was a pleasant experience. I was peer-pressured into it (and I take full responsibility for that), but after a couple of weeks had gone by and I had smoked a couple more cigarettes, I started doing it purely for the buzz from the nicotine. There were no alternatives on the market at the time that could come close to the feeling of a cigarette.

So at age fourteen, I became addicted to a product that kills 480,000 people per year in the United States alone.

When I was nineteen, one of my friends gave me his old box mod vape (drastically different from the very popular and discreet Juul). I had to go buy a separate tank for e-liquids, then I was set to go. In the type of setup I had, you had to buy juice, coils, batteries, chargers, etc. Altogether to get started, it probably cost me around $150 to $200 (and that's with the friend giving me a $100 device). After about two years of going back and forth between smoking and vaping, I found a strawberry-and-creme flavor that would be the flavor that made me quit smoking for good.

I still remember at one point walking to my car to get another pack of cigarettes out of the carton I always had in my trunk, then thinking, "Wait, you have a way better-tasting thing in your pocket, you don't have to have any more cigarettes." I'm proud to say I'm three-plus years smoke-free, and that's due to e-cigarettes and flavored e-liquids.

So the reason I'm writing this is to show you that any flat-out ban on vaping or just flavored vaping would totally be missing the issues currently in this industry. The biggest being that flavors are targeting kids: Yes, last year was the largest increase in underage kids using vape devices, but it was also the lowest teen smoking rate we've ever had as a country (smoking overall went up just barely, but teen rates were the lowest ever).

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Also, the cost for a full setup (not a pod system, like Juul) is typically around $150 to $250; not many high-schoolers can afford that. These systems also use free-base nicotine, which takes longer to enter your system, and while it satisfies the nicotine craving, it's definitely different from the buzz that a combustible cigarette or a Juul gives you (ask a current vaper/long-time smoker). In 2017, Juul entered the market with ads using young, attractive models, a heavy social media presence, and launch parties at which they distributed nicotine for free (federally illegal at the time). If you look at teen vaping trends, this is exactly when the "epidemic" started. Juul also entered the market as the first salt-nicotine device. This meant they were putting upwards of 50 MG/ML nicotine in their pods (some have tested up to 73MG/ML). When I quit, I was about a pack- to a pack-and-a-half-a-day smoker, and started on a 6 MG/ML...so no wonder kids are becoming nicotine addicts. I currently work at a vape shop, and tell my customers to specifically avoid Juul because they may become more addicted to nicotine than they were while smoking traditional cigarettes. Places like the U.K. have a limit on how much nicotine can be put into vape juice (20 MG/ML is the most, I believe). Some European countries are even more progressive by taxing the higher nicotine levels more heavily, so there is an incentive to lose the dependency on nicotine.

I also find it pretty interesting how different American science and British science view e-cigarettes. There are hospitals in the U.K. with vape shops in them, while their no smoking signs say "Have you considered trying an e-cigarette, the British Royal College of Physicians finds them to be 95% safer than traditional cigarettes." I can only imagine this has to do with the Major Settlement Agreement between the states and the tobacco companies. This was supposed to impose tighter and more restrictions on tobacco manufacturers, and was signed by the five largest cigarette producers in the USA back in 1998. It also made those companies pay the states in which they operated a fee for the amount of cigarettes sold per year per state. But not much of that money goes where it is supposed to: "States will collect $27.5 billion from the MSA and taxes in fiscal year 2018, but will spend less than 3 percent of it on programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. No state currently funds tobacco prevention at the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); 29 states and the District of Columbia spend less than 20 percent of the CDC recommendation." So the states are literally profiting off of their own citizens buying a product we know is dangerous to their health.

What I find very odd about this is everyone in the government likes to forget that the taxpayers then take on the burden of all the health-care cost associated with smoking-related diseases. This is probably why the U.K. government is much more open to the idea that maybe killing your own citizens isn't the best way to conduct yourself as a government.

Since 2016 this industry has been regulated in production, and the companies that have prospered in this industry would never want their products to hurt the very consumers they make their living off. Most people working in this industry are former smokers and would never want to sell a product that would cause someone to get sick or use something that could be more dangerous than traditional cigarettes. Raise the age to purchase to 21, ban all flavored sales outside of licensed vape shops, stop online sales, but don't kill an industry that's just trying to help people become healthier and live better lives.

Overall, I believe banning e-cigarettes or banning flavored e-liquids is one of the most dangerous things we could do, considering how deadly we know cigarettes are. If we still have a right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," please tell me how a flat ban on vaping or flavors is allowing me to have any of those rights. 

We vape, we vote, and I know I'm far from alone on this issue.

Westword occasionally publishes commentaries and op-eds on matters of interest to the Denver community. Have one you'd like to submit? Send it to editorial@westword.com.

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