Lung Disease Outbreak: First Casualties of the War on Vaping?

Vaping Man (free photo by Ruslan Alexo from Pexels)
Vaping Man (free photo by Ruslan Alexo from Pexels)

On August 15, Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services announced “a cluster of people with severe lung disease who all reported recent vaping or dabbing (vaping marijuana oils, extracts, or concentrates).”  CNN reports more than 120 similar cases nationwide based on a survey of state health departments.

“Vaping” has been a thing  for a decade or so, practiced by 10 million or more Americans (including, sometimes, me). While some studies indicate that there may be down sides to using e-cigarettes, most of the evidence says it’s not nearly as bad for you as tobacco, and this is the first significant supposed “outbreak” of  vaping-related illness I’ve heard of.

What’s going on here?

The likely answer, sometimes alluded to but certainly not very well covered in the press, is that the outbreak is a sign of “success” in the FDA’s war on vaping and in the US government’s war on drugs in general.

Because marijuana remains illegal in most states, and because the FDA and state and local governments have cracked down hard on the sale of e-cigarette products to minors by retailers, nobody uses marijuana and teens don’t vape.

No, wait a minute. That’s not quite right. Let’s try this out instead:

Because marijuana remains illegal in most states, and because the FDA and state and local governments have cracked down hard on the sale of e-cigarette products to minors by retailers, there’s a booming black market in e-cigarette products, including “juice” that supposedly contains cannabis.

Teens are still vaping, and teens and adults are still using marijuana. But instead of buying “juice” from a reputable company at a local convenience store, they’re buying it on the street.

If companies like JUUL and retailers like Wawa  sell dangerous products, they’re likely to face lawsuits, regulatory fines and sanctions,  and damage to their brand reputations. They try to avoid killing their customers, if for no other reason than that killing their customers would be bad for their bottom lines.

That guy on the street corner selling a cheap tank of cannabis sativa “juice” for your teenager’s  e-cigarette may be an artisan who takes pride in his work. Or he may be a scam artist looking for a quick buck and your kid may be getting a cocktail of dangerous chemicals intended to simulate cannabis from someone without a name who will have moved to another corner — or another town — by the time your kid shows up at the ER with a breathing problem.

Stay tuned as the same “public health” advocates who brought us the first wave of e-cigarette regulation for the chillllllllllldren  label the current outbreak an “emergency” and demand more of the same measures that made that outbreak inevitable.

The war on drugs, in which the war on vaping is quickly becoming the latest front, has done far more harm to Americans than the drugs themselves. If you care about your kids, talk with them — and if necessary buy their vape products for them instead of sending them to the street corner.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY

Politics versus Policy in the New “Public Charge” Rules

Green Card (public domain image)
Green Card (public domain image)

On August 12, the Trump administration announced new rules for immigrants seeking permanent residence status (through issuance of a “green card”)  in the United States. Those rules apply a longstanding prohibition on immigrants likely to become “public charges” (that is, dependent on government benefits) to  applicants who have received certain of those government benefits — among them Medicaid, SNAP (“food stamps”), and housing assistance — for more than 12 months.

The politics of the move are obvious: Trump is throwing more red meat to his anti-immigration “base.” The new rules are of a piece with his border wall project and high-profile ICE raids on workplaces where undocumented immigrants are employed. They’re not intended to solve a problem. They’re intended to keep his voters enthused as the 2020 election cycle heats up.

As actual policy, who can really complain? Well, some people can and will. But if the US government is going to regulate immigration at all (I don’t believe that it should, and the Constitution says it can’t), “pay your own way or go away” doesn’t sound like an unreasonable rule.

Interestingly, though, the policy conflicts with the politics. It discourages the “legal” immigration most Trump voters claim to be fine with, and encourages the “illegal” immigration he campaigned on a promise of “fixing.”

Suppose you are a would-be immigrant to the United States.

You can “get in line,” fill out forms, show up for meetings, submit to questioning, bust your hump meeting various requirements, and still find yourself turned away (or sent back) for any number of reasons.

Or you can walk across the border in the middle of the night and go to work, with a much lower chance of being found out, and sent back, than if you interacted with US immigration authorities.

Adding to the burden of the first approach doesn’t mean fewer immigrants. It just means that more immigrants will take the second approach.

Is that the outcome you signed up for, Trump voters?

Anti-immigration agitators fondly quote economist Milton Friedman: “[I]t is one thing to have free immigration to jobs. It is another thing to have free immigration to welfare. And you cannot have both.” The rule change is a sop to that sentiment. But it leaves out another thing Friedman said about what happens when we try to have both:

“Mexican immigration, over the border, is a good thing. It’s a good thing for the illegal immigrants. It’s a good thing for the United States. It’s a good thing for the citizens of the country. But, it’s only good so long as it’s illegal.”

If Americans want fewer “public charges,” the solution isn’t to single out immigrants for exclusion from government welfare benefits. It’s to eliminate, or at least drastically reduce and toughen  eligibility requirements for, those welfare benefits. For everyone, not just for people who happen to  hail from the “wrong” side of an imaginary line on the ground.

Two evils — immigration authoritarianism and welfare statism — do not add up to one good. We should ditch both.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY

Sneering at “Conspiracy Theories” is a Lazy Substitute for Seeking the Truth

Medical Examiner's van allegedly carrying the body of Jeffrey Epstein (public domain, video capture from US state media)
Medical Examiner’s van allegedly carrying the body of Jeffrey Epstein (public domain, video capture from US state media)

On the morning of August 10, a wealthy sex crimes defendant  was reportedly found dead in his cell at New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center.

“New York City’s chief medical examiner,” the New York Times reported on August 11, “is confident Jeffrey Epstein died by hanging himself in the jail cell where he was being held without bail on sex-trafficking charges, but is awaiting more information before releasing her determination …”

That same day, the Times published an op-ed by Charlie Warzel complaining that “[e]ven on an internet bursting at the seams with conspiracy theories and hyperpartisanship, Saturday marked a new chapter in our post-truth, ‘choose your own reality’ crisis story.”

After three years of continuously beating the drum for its own  now-discredited conspiracy theory —  that the President of the United States conspired with Vladimir Putin’s regime to rig the 2016 presidential election — the Times doesn’t have much standing to whine about, or sneer at, “conspiracy theories and hyperpartisanship.”

Is Jeffrey Epstein really dead? If so, did he kill himself or was he murdered? If he was murdered, whodunit and why?

Those are legitimate questions. Calling everyone who asks them, or proposes possible answers to them, a “conspiracy theorist” isn’t an argument, it’s intellectual laziness.

Yes, some theories fit the available evidence better than others. And yes, some theories just sound crazy. If someone says a UFO beamed Epstein up, or that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump posed as corrections officers and personally strangled him, I suggest setting those claims aside absent very strong evidence.

But there are plenty of good  reasons to question the “official account.”

Yes, prisoners have committed suicide at federal jails and prisons. But prisoners have also escaped from, and been killed at, such facilities. In fact, notorious Boston gangster Whitey Bulger was murdered in a federal prison just last year.

Given Epstein’s wealth and power, the wealth and power of persons accused of serious crimes in recently unsealed court documents, the claim of one of his prosecutors that Epstein “belonged to” the US intelligence community, the well-established inability of the federal government to secure its facilities or prevent criminal activity inside those facilities (including the corruption of its own personnel), the equally well-established unreliability of claims made by government agencies and officials in general, and the already flowing stream of admissions that the Metropolitan Correctional Center’s procedures weren’t followed where Jeffrey Epstein was concerned, the question is not why “conspiracy theories” are circulating — it’s why on earth they WOULDN’T be.

No, I’m not saying that Epstein is alive and living it up in “witness protection,” or that he was murdered by a hit team on behalf of one of his “Lolita Express” cronies. I just don’t know. Neither, probably, do you. Nor do those screaming “conspiracy theory!” at every musing contrary to the suicide theory.

Maybe we’ll find out the truth someday. Maybe we won’t. Pretending we already have, and shouting down those who suggest we haven’t, isn’t a method of seeking knowledge. It’s a method of avoiding knowledge.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY