In late September, the state of Massachusetts issued a ban on the sale of nicotine and marijuana vaping-related products. The ban, set to last four months, comes in the context of a notable uptick in vaping-related illnesses and even deaths in otherwise healthy, mostly young people. It has also faced pushback for being inconsistent with allowing the sale of cigarettes and for its adverse effects on local businesses.
While we appreciate the concerns of those who view this ban as paternalistic and inappropriate, we believe that, as otherwise healthy individuals are falling ill and dying, the issue demands immediate attention. Scant medical research on these devices deepens the considerable uncertainty about their risks. Therefore, we support this limited ban insofar as it will allow authorities to assess the sources of the problem and determine appropriate regulatory solutions.
Many vape product users turn to them as an alternative to cigarettes, believing that switching would help them ease off of a cigarette addiction, or that vape products were less dangerous. Others have turned to vaping as first-time users whose adoption of this technology coincides with the relaxation of marijuana laws in states across the country and the associated rise in such products’ availability. While individuals have the freedom to engage in acts which solely harm themselves, the lack of information that exists on vaping prevents individuals from making an informed decision. Both those who have transitioned from other drugs and those who picked up vaping for the first time are relying on information, popular belief, and advertising that is dubious at best.
The companies producing and marketing some of the most popular nicotine e-cigarette and vaping products appear to have only worsened this informational asymmetry. Some companies have come under congressional investigation and scrutiny for their tactics – producing the vapes in flavors and styles that many claim are marketed toward younger demographics. Whether or not this is the goal of these companies’ marketing, research suggests that these devices have successfully taken hold in college and even in high school demographics, breaking decades-old trends of decreasing levels of smoking and introducing younger markets to highly-addictive chemicals.
Particularly because this issue significantly affects college-age students, Harvard should spearhead research efforts into vaping and work to better understand the health effects of these devices. Only when we gain a more complete understanding of the risks and benefits surrounding the use of vaping devices will people be empowered to make informed decisions about their use.
This ban will not only affect those who use vape devices, but will also significantly affect small business owners and entrepreneurs whose businesses purchased their inventories under the assumption that their sale would remain legal. Given that the ban has severely and suddenly disrupted the livelihoods of many people selling vaping-related goods, the state government should consider a plan to support affected businesses.
In the end, we should all strive to be a healthier, more informed population, and this temporary ban on the sale of vaping devices provides the foundation for meaningful study of the issue. However, the ban will only be meaningful if the pace of research — and eventually of public health education — accelerates to address the knowledge gap between popular opinion and the emerging medical consensus.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.