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Packages of Juul e-cigarettes are displayed for sale at the Brazil Outlet shop in Los Angeles, June 22.
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The Biden Administration’s instinct is always to shoot business first and clean up the unintended consequences later. Its example this week—there’s an example every week—is to tease regulation to slash nicotine in cigarettes followed by a leak of its plan to ban Juul e-cigarettes.
Nobody disputes that tobacco is harmful, especially for young people. But misconceived regulation can also boomerang. The 1998 state settlement helped the Big Four Tobacco companies grow profits and cement their market share, as our columnist Holman Jenkins has noted. Big business loves big government.
Juul Labs disrupted the tobacco industry last decade with its fruity-flavored e-cigarettes that helped many smokers quit. Nicotine patches don’t work for everyone, and some smokers like the sensation of inhaling. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association in December found that adult daily cigarette smokers who had no intention of quitting and then started using e-cigs daily were eight times more likely to stop smoking.
Yet Juul came under fire for hooking teens on nicotine. In 2018 Juul voluntarily stopped selling its fruity-flavored refillable vaping cartridges in stores. But teens didn’t stop vaping. They merely gravitated to rival e-cigarette brands and more harmful marijuana vaping products. Last year 6.8% of 12th graders reported using Juul in the last 30 days—down from 20.8% in 2019—compared to 12.4% who had vaped marijuana. One in five 12th graders still reported vaping nicotine, but two-thirds of them used brands other than Juul.
Now comes the leak that the Food and Drug Administration plans to order Juul products off the market. What was its grave sin? It’s not clear. In addition to no longer selling fruity-flavors in stores, Juul has stopped marketing on Facebook and Instagram and implemented a secret-shopper program to catch retailers illicitly selling to youth. Its efforts seem to have helped curb youth use.
The FDA isn’t banning all e-cigs, so ordering Juul off the market will merely push its customers to other brands, including those owned by big tobacco companies—at least until they get the axe too. Meantime, the FDA plans to require tobacco makers to curb nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels, ostensibly with the aim of snuffing out the industry.
Some smokers may simply smoke more cigarettes—inhaling even more damaging byproducts—to get the same nicotine fix. The FDA regulations are also sure to produce a black market. Consider how smugglers have bootlegged cigarettes from Indian reservations to avoid high state tobacco taxes.
Progressives have long wanted to put the tobacco industry out of business even as governments have become hooked on its tax revenue. But smoking rates have declined significantly over the past few decades, no thanks to government regulation. Public-health campaigns have helped, as have tobacco cessation products including e-cigs.
Perhaps what has made the biggest difference is the cultural stigma that has attached to smoking. Yet bizarrely, modern progressives who crusade against tobacco have normalized and even celebrated the use of marijuana, which is highly addictive and harmful to young brains. How can legalizing pot while banning nicotine be explained other than as a perverse progressive cultural contradiction?
Journal Editorial Report: The week’s best and worst from Kim Strassel, Kyle Peterson, Jillian Melchior and Dan Henninger. Images: AP/Shutterstock/SpaceX/Reuters Composite: Mark Kelly
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