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With e-cigarettes, public health issue tops free market: James Miller

Posted 10/9/19

The Trump administration’s move to prohibit flavored e-cigarettes is getting a raft of flak, but not from the usual Democrat saboteurs. Conservatives and libertarians are coming together in the …

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With e-cigarettes, public health issue tops free market: James Miller

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The Trump administration’s move to prohibit flavored e-cigarettes is getting a raft of flak, but not from the usual Democrat saboteurs. Conservatives and libertarians are coming together in the name of inhaling artificially fruit-flavored vapor.

The libertarian news site reason.com is littered with rants, and presentiments, and histrionic tantrums over the impending loss of melon-grapefruit-twist ersatz tobacco. “Hands Off the Fruity E-Cigs” ran one headline at National Review, by whom, I can only assume, is a basement-biding teenager who hacked the site. A Washington Post columnist calls the coming ban “hysteria masquerading as prudence.” This, from a paper that hosts the hag-ridden ravings of Jennifer Rubin.

Lawmakers, too, are actually furrowing their brow over Donald Trump’s draconian approach to bubblegum-enriched nicotine inhalers. U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, expressed tepid concern over the administration’s ham-fisted approach. “I don’t want to see the government overreact to these things, but I think we have to take appropriate measures here,” Johnson said, regurgitating language fed to him by an overpaid center-right flack.

Democrats, in an unexpected move, aren’t virulently opposed to the ban, despite the party’s infatuation with marijuana legalization. Illinois windbag Sen. Dick Durbin commended Trump, panegyrizing on the Senate floor, “We are making it clear in the United States of America that we know that vaping targets kids. We know that these targeted kids are risking their health and their life by continuing to use e-cigarettes and vaping, and with this administration today, on a bipartisan basis, we are banning these flavor pods once and for all.”

Nota bene: This might be the only time Sen. Dicky has been right about something in his entire congressional career.

Vaping companies are plainly targeting teenagers with flavors like “hot dog” and “pink lemonade.” Denying it is an insult to the dimmest simp’s intelligence.

No surprise the libertarian contingent of our politics, which is louder online relative to its actual standing within the public, is the most peeved over the proposed ban. The most dogmatic libertarian views every feces-flecked vagrant with an IV needle hanging out of his arm, a pica of liquified heroin still in the barrel, as a symbol of nonjudgmental liberty. They won’t be pleased until the entire country is an open-air fleshpot.

What’s unfortunate is the reflexive aversion conservatives have to the ban, as if Edmund Burke waxed eloquently about the liberty-inducing properties of tutti frutti glycerin. These conservatives take a firmly libertarian position regarding freedom, which, similar to the left, finds any imposition on bodily autonomy to be inimical to liberty. But that’s not real freedom, nor is it how the American Founders saw liberty best exercised.

A well-ordered and responsible society views limits as necessary for flourishing, particularly for the well-being of children.

Bill Buckley, the man most responsible for mainstreaming the libertarian-ish conservative Weltanschauung, once wrote a candid column endorsing blanket prohibition on tobacco six months after his wife succumbed to an infection, which ravaged her “body weakened by 60 years of nonstop smoking.”

“Stick me in a confessional and ask the question: Sir, if you had the authority, would you forbid smoking in America?” Buckley asked himself. His answer would have today’s NR editors hopping mad. “You'd get a solemn and contrite, Yes. Solemn because I would be violating my secular commitment to the free marketplace.”

Somehow, the gods of laissez-faire may forgive Buckley for not being consistent out of concern for public health.

On substance abuse, cable-popular conservatives emphasize their phlegmatic apathy in an unctuous bid to impress liberals, sneering at the Helen Lovejoys in their camp. But, vaping addiction is on the rise, especially among teens. Hundreds are being treated for lung damage. A handful have died. Students are reporting vaping addiction; some can’t go two hours without a “hit.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is struggling to contain what’s becoming a strawberry-suffused epidemic.

Ignoring this trend because of something Milton Friedman wrote a half-century ago isn’t just dismissive sophistry — it puts cold, abstract intellectualism over warm human concern.

Government prohibition isn’t without its own risks. There’s always the chance for bureaucratic overzealousness, which leads to unintended consequences.

Trump’s decree is no different: the ban will surely impinge upon the surprising social scene among vape shop habitués. One of the many things I learned from Chris Arnade’s excellent new book “Dignity” is the ancillary function vaping boutiques have outside their addictive wares.

Like McDonald’s, businesses trafficking in nicotine-tinged vapor act as informal hubs of socialization in hardscrabble areas. With church pews empty and social-service agencies turning off the public with their bright, sanitized atmospheres, layabouts spend hours between sporadic jobs blowing blueberry aromatic haze.

Of course, there are better ways to spend one’s time. But vaping and conversating with real people beats sitting in front of the television for endless hours playing video games, communicating detachedly with other wastrels whose buttocks impress indelible folds upon their couches.

It’s upon these kinds of consequences the flavored vape prohibition should be judged — not “don’t tell me what to do!” solipsism. Conservatives need not be so parochial in their policy estimation.

And if they’re still irked about the ban, they can be proper traditionalists and smoke a real cigarette.

Tobacco always beats lemon Gum Drop.

James E. Miller, a native of Middletown, lives in northern Virginia with his wife and daughter. He is the author of the novel “To Win And To Lose.”