How the Vaping Industry Is Using a Defensive Tactic Pioneered Decades Ago by Big TobaccoRoundup
tags: public health, vaping, Big Tobacco, Juul Labs
Sarah Milov is the author of The Cigarette: A Political History, available now from Harvard University Press.
According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, more than 20% of US high schoolers vaped in 2018—an alarming increase of 78% over the previous year. Preliminary data from this year’s survey suggest a continued rise in youth e-cigarette use. Recent studies suggest that young people who vape are more likely to become smokers. Public health officials warn of an epidemic, the full consequences of which are not yet known. But the most dangerous aspect of vaping might not be what it does to the body, but rather what it does to the body politic.
Take the example of preemption laws, which prohibit lower levels of government from passing stronger legislation. Preemption is a defensive tactic. Industries turn to it when cities pass laws that more strictly regulate products or practices, such as higher minimum wage laws, stronger gun control and even the removal of Confederate monuments. Big Tobacco pioneered the use of preemption laws in the 1980s—and now e-cigarette manufacturers, including Juul, the biggest player in the e-cigarette market, are turning to that page in the Big Tobacco playbook.
What’s at stake in these measures is not only the ability of a company like Juul to continue marketing its product; it is also the ability of everyday citizens to access and shape politics—a challenge more acute in our post-Citizens United era of supercharged political spending by corporations. Opportunities remain to combat the power of the vaping industry, as cities can piggyback on previous successes scored by anti-tobacco activists, amending current smoke-free laws to include e-cigarettes. Quick action by cities now could even mitigate the effects of a potential preemption law by setting new norms and encouraging private businesses to establish their own policies. Such a move would also send a message to state lawmakers that communities want local control.
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