This week the House Judiciary Committee is expected to approve the MORE Act, which would repeal the federal ban on marijuana. Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday approved a new federal ban on flavored e-cigarettes, which would make the vast majority of nicotine vaping products illegal. Also this week, the American Medical Association (AMA), which has questioned marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I drug, approved a resolution calling for a complete ban on “all e-cigarette and vaping products.”
The fact that Democratic legislators and AMA leaders who think the war on weed should be ended or scaled back are prepared to launch a new war on nicotine products is puzzling on its face, since they recognize the problems created by drug prohibition in one context while ignoring them in another. But the illogic of these contradictory impulses looks even worse when you notice that both the AMA and the members of Congress who want to ban flavored e-cigarettes are citing the recent outbreak of lung injuries tied to marijuana products as a justification for banning nicotine products.
Rep. Frank Pallone (D–N.J.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee and sponsored the ban on flavored nicotine e-liquids, mentioned “over 2,100 cases of lung injuries and 42 deaths related to vaping illnesses.” The AMA likewise invoked “the recent lung illness outbreak linked to more than 2,000 illnesses and over 40 deaths across the country and a spike in youth e-cigarette use.”
According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those cases overwhelmingly, and perhaps entirely, involve vaping of cannabis extracts, typically purchased on the black market. So far there is no evidence that legal nicotine e-cigarettes—the products that Pallone and the AMA want to severely restrict or ban—have caused any of these injuries or deaths. Since such products have been used by millions of Americans for years without causing such acute respiratory reactions, the likelihood that they are even partly responsible for the outbreak is approximately zero.
To be clear, the fact that cannabis products figure prominently in vaping-related lung injuries is not an argument for marijuana prohibition. Although a few lung disease cases have been linked to products purchased from state-licensed marijuana retailers, the main problem is a black market in which consumers do not know the provenance and composition of the products they are consuming. In a legal market, it is much easier to guard