More than 10 million Americans relying on reduced-risk alternatives to deadly tobacco products breathed a sigh of relief when, at 6:30 p.m. on New Years’ Eve, the Food and Drug Administration announced it would not proceed with a widely anticipated ban on these life-saving products.

For the tight community of vaping ex-smokers, the news was not simply a vindication of their decision to improve their health, it was a glimmer of hope that current smokers might have access to these life-saving products.

The news also was a welcome sign for a budding industry given that 100,000 jobs depend directly on harm-reduction products, such as e-cigarettes, and millions of vapers and small shop owners see prohibition as devastating to lives and livelihoods.

And, with presidential hopefuls Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, announcing plans for a ban on vaping, the issue could take center stage in the 2020 presidential race. An astounding 83 percent of vapers are likely to decide their vote based solely on a candidate’s position on this issue. Millions of vaper voters have spoken: The government must make more harm-reduction products available, rather than stymie choices for smokers.

With vaping conclusively proven to be 95 percent less harmful than smoking and twice as effective as any other nicotine replacement products, it is hardly surprising that millions of Americans care deeply about being denied the products saving their lives.

According to the most comprehensive peer-reviewed research on the subject, nearly 7 million lives would be saved if a majority of smokers quit smoking through the use of e-cigarettes over the next 10 years. As such, efforts by the federal government to reduce access to these life-saving products undermine public health and will doubtlessly cause more people to smoke combustible tobacco. And worse, ill-advised regulations will cause millions to take up illegal bootleg products responsible for scores of illnesses.

But ex-smokers have had to deal with wave after wave of wildly inaccurate moral panics breathlessly spread by assorted special interest groups. “Public health” groups have irresponsibly blamed vaping for a recent, tragic outbreak of lung illnesses.

The Center for Disease Control, along with numerous peer-reviewed academic publications such as the New England Journal of Medicine, have confirmed that every case of illness has been as a result of illicit, black-market THC vaping devices bought on the streets and laced with substances such as Vitamin E acetone, and had nothing to do with nicotine vaping.

Thousands of hospitalizations and dozens of deaths stem from prohibition leading to black-market sales, not reduced-risk products lawfully sold.

Similarly, claims about a “youth epidemic” around e-cigarette use ignore wider, encouraging trends of improving habits among teenagers.

Youth smoking is at an all-time low, having plummeted from 18.9 percent in 2011 (when e-cigarettes were broadly introduced) to just 10.4 percent in 2017. Preliminary FDA data shows that youth rates have fallen a further 20 percent over the past two years.

In fact, multiple studies have concluded that “fears over a resurgence in youth tobacco smoking because of the rise in e-cigarette use are largely unfounded,” there is “no evidence” that e-cigarettes are a gateway to traditional combustible tobacco for youth users, and, “e-cigarette use does not appear to be associated with current, continued smoking.” Similarly, all available evidence indicates that flavors play no role in encouraging high school students to try vaping (despite their vital role in encouraging adult smokers to switch).

Thankfully, the FDA realized that completely decimating the vaping industry would harm adult smokers without deterring youth vaping. Nonetheless, the agency’s actions still have the potential to place millions of lives in jeopardy.

Bureaucrats have announced an immediate ban on all flavors (excluding tobacco and mint) from “closed system” e-cigarettes. Unlike more traditional refillable cigarettes sold from specialized vape stores, these use disposable “pods” and are commonly sold at convenience stores and gas stations.

While more affluent Americans in urban areas with easy access to specialized vape stores won’t be inconvenienced, millions of rural residents will no longer be able to purchase any sort of flavored product. Given that nearly three-quarters of vapers “credited tasty flavors” with helping them give up tobacco, it is certain that many of them will return to smoking traditional combustible cigarettes in response to federal prohibition.

It gets even worse. As of May 2020, all small, independent vape stores must go through a costly Pre-Market Tobacco Authorization process for each one of their vape liquids.

This process is estimated by the FDA to cost each small business between $117,000 and $466,000 for each product (other estimates place costs as high as $7 million) and requires product samples to be tested, analyzed, put through human subject studies, and proven to be of comparable safety to smoking.

While the FDA has hinted at potentially streamlining this process, the current onerous process would require every single flavor variety to undergo a separate PMTA application. For an average vape store stocking hundreds of different products, the per-application cost must therefore be multiplied 10 or even a hundredfold. Given that 93 percent of vape stores employ less than 10 people, the vast majority of shops cannot afford the tens — if not hundreds — of millions of dollars in regulatory costs, and almost all of them would be forced to shut their doors. The inevitable result of this would be only the biggest companies remaining in the market, while significantly reducing consumer access to lifesaving products.

For the sake of millions of smokers trying to kick their deadly habit, the Trump administration must urgently reform the PMTA process, and kick the current flavor ban to the curb. Millions of lives depend upon it.

Tim Andrews is the Executive director of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. This piece was distributed by The Center Square.

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