Sep 12, 2019

Is vaping actually killing people?

Is vaping actually killing people?

The feds are making moves on e-cigs.

Today’s read: 7 minutes.

Vaping, dirty politics, and the Democrats’ ideas that might actually work.

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What D.C. is talking about.

E-cigs. Yesterday, President Trump made an unexpected announcement by telling a group of reporters that he was looking into a ban on flavored e-cigarettes, including most Juul products. His announcement comes as viral stories about mysterious vaping illnesses are spreading like wildfire across the internet. And, even though youth rates of tobacco use,  drug use, alcohol use and teen pregnancy are down, vaping is exploding in popularity. Several state attorneys say this is thanks to marketing techniques that these companies are using to specifically target youth users, like flavoring the pods that go inside the vape pens.

What Democrats are saying.

Get them out. Democrats were the first ones to call for a ban on e-cigs, saying it was a youth epidemic and we needed to act. In Michigan, the Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer banned flavored vape products less than a week ago. “I’m not going to sit here and allow this committee to be used,” Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib told a JUUL representative, “to say that e-cigarettes, vaping, JUUL, is not killing our people; they are.” Democrats in Congress have been pushing for age restrictions, flavor bans and marketing crackdowns. They’ve been pushing the FDA to investigate e-cigarettes and regulate the industry quick. Just one liberal I’ve come across has noted the benefits of having e-cigarettes as an alternative to the real thing.

What Republicans are saying.

It’s complicated. When Whitmer instituted the ban in Michigan, state Republicans blasted her. In Tangle, I wrote about how vaping was a huge voting issue and the ban may turn hundreds of thousands of single-issue Michigan vape voters to Trump in the 2020 election. But now Trump is calling for the exact same ban, but on a national level. Many Michigan Republicans have been mum or offered tepid criticism of Trump in response. Democrats in the state are giddy at the predicament the president has put their colleagues in. Other Republicans, though, and lots of  moderate independents, have been vociferously disputing the vape horror stories. A closer look at the evidence reveals that virtually all of the vaping illnesses have been tied to illegal vaping products. Noah Rothman noted in Commentary Magazine that “84 percent of those who were sickened by vaporized inhalants reported using unlicensed marijuana-related products.” Indeed, the sick vapers who have surrendered their products for testing were using illegal, bootleg type products that were not being sold by major manufacturers like Juul.

My take.

There’s gotta be some middle ground. While it’s true that vaping is becoming very popular with the young bucks, and there are obvious concerns about an entire generation being addicted to nicotine, banning flavored e-cigs would be horrible policy. First, Rothman is right that not a single death or serious illness has been directly linked to mainstream e-cig products like Juul. So far, every death and serious illness that’s been examined is from bootleg THC products and cartridges that are being sold illegally in the first place (or in states where they are in regulatory limbo). Second, while youth cigarette use has gone up by half a percentage point during this vaping boom, we’re still talking about an alternative to cigarettes. I’ve read and seen a lot of stories about people who have been able to quit cigarettes because of low-nicotine vaping products that helped ween them off. Also, what happens to the 20 percent of kids who are using vapes when these products get banned? Any guesses? They’ll turn to cigarettes.  Or, they’ll turn to the bootleg vaping products that are actually hurting people. If American history has taught me anything, it’s that prohibition like this rarely works — and almost always has the exact opposite effect. And, politically, in case I haven’t made this clear: this issue is a grenade. It may sound absurd, but there are literally millions of voters who will make a decision in 2020 based on vaping policy, and both Trump and the Democrats are on the wrong side of this issue.

An update.

On Monday, I told you that I’d heard from a source in the Bahamas the death toll was going to be astronomically larger than the 43 people already declared deceased. This source said there were hundreds of bodies visible in rubble and the number would be in the thousands. Yesterday, government officials in the Bahamas released an official list with an estimated 2,500 people who are missing.

Your questions, answered.

Q: What are some policy stances from any Democrats running that could ACTUALLY happen? It seems so impossible these days for anything to get past the Senate regardless of who is in control, so I’m left here wondering if looking at policy even matters anymore and we should just vote for who we feel may be the most compassionate, or sanely well-rounded person.

- Matt, Houston, TX

Tangle: The thing that immediately comes to mind is alleviating student debt. I’ll start by telling you that at A Plus, I’m involved in a project that has to do with the student debt crisis, and there is a huge grassroots movement to address this. Not only that, but  it’s a generational — not partisan — issue. Most people now under the age of 35 understand the urgency with which we need to act on student debt, and they share it across party lines. By now, you probably know that Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and most other Democrats running for office have various plans to alleviate or altogether forgive student loan debt. But the clamoring on the Republican side is also starting to bubble. Fox News’s Tucker Carlson got a lot of attention in March for his segment on the $1.5 trillion of student loan debt Americans now have. Carlson hit all the major points: home ownership is down, credit card payments can’t be paid and fewer kids are being had. He also hit the lobbyists that swarm Washington D.C. to prevent reform. Of course, being Carlson, he blamed colleges for hiring “like-minded” liberal administrative staff who are helping destroy rural America. While he didn’t propose solutions for the people already in debt, he did propose that colleges “co-sign” loans so they share in the risk with students and have to help pay those loans back if a degree doesn’t help a student get the income to pay off the loan. That’s a policy idea that I could see Democrats and Republicans getting behind as part of a broader package to address the debt students are already in.

Another Democratic policy proposal I could see getting pushed through is the legalization of recreational marijuana. Even as the whole vaping thing goes down, there is a strong public sentiment in favor of legalization (62 percent of Americans now favor legalization) and Republicans have shown a willingness to play ball. One wise angle of attack for Democrats could be legalizing it at the federal level and letting states decide what to do at the local level. As it stands, the federal government is enforcing some marijuana laws on states that have voted to legalize it, which is just the kind of federal overreach and Big Government Republicans say they loathe.

Reducing carbon emissions, too, is something I think a Democratic administration could make headway on. As some liberals are embracing a nihilistic kind of view that it’s almost too late to do anything and we’re all screwed, Republicans are actually warming up to policies like carbon taxes and seeing the upside of a booming solar and wind industry.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly (as it’s the No. 1 issue for most voters), I think Democrats could successfully expand Medicaid or Medicare. As much as Republicans have railed against a bloated federal government and overspending, in the Trump era they have essentially lost all ground to stand on. Trump is blowing up the deficit and spending like a madman — but he’s just not expanding programs like Medicaid, Medicare or the Affordable Care Act. It’s not hard for me to imagine a world where a far-left Democratic administration (think Sanders or Warren) successfully reduces spending in other programs, perhaps the military, and pitches the use of some of that money on an initiative to expand access to federal health care programs. They could do this fairly easily by once again changing the requirements for someone to qualify for Medicaid or Medicare, which would have the domino effect of opening the door for state legislators to expand their  programs. We’ve already seen that begin to happen. Last year, there were Medicaid expansions in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah, even though those states had to cover part of the cost of the expansion. In a new Democratic administration, the rules could change again to give more federal help to states that wanted to expand their access. That could be big news for millions of low-income or elderly Americans who are looking for more health care options. (Btw, if you’re looking for a health care break down, I wrote one in Tangle during the newsletter’s first week. You can read that here.)

Each of these Democratic priorities come to mind when I think of realistic changes that could happen. Free college and health care for all seem unrealistic to me now (though there might be a more friendly climate in 20 years). Universal Basic Income would run into huge hurdles that I don’t see it overcoming. The NRA has made their  power clear and while small reforms are possible I’m not sure the gun reform movement will get a ton done, even under a Democratic administration. One other area for opportunity: reducing military presence and spending. While traditional Republicans and Democrats are still entrenched in the military-industrial complex, and Trump has poured money into the military, both he and far-left Democrats have proven there is a huge constituency that wants to reduce U.S. military spending or its presence overseas.

Dirty politics.

This morning, Andrew from Tampa Bay, Florida, wrote in to Tangle and asked, “What happened in NC with the budget veto? Was what happened illegal or unethical and why?” Yesterday, while the North Carolina Governor and fellow Democrats were at a 9/11 memorial, Republican members of the North Carolina state senate held a vote to override his veto and pass a state budget. According to Democrats, the North Carolina Republicans had assured the governor and their Democratic colleagues that no vote would be taken in their absence — what turned out to be a bald-faced lie. Republicans say no such assurances were given, and handed over audio to an Associated Press reporter of the Republican speaker saying recorded votes would happen on Wednesday. They also claim that just two Democratic politicians and the Governor  were at 9/11 memorials at the time of the vote. Whether or not assurances were made and broken, the reality is a massive budget vote took place in a half-empty chamber while some state representatives, and the Governor, were honoring 9/11. Before this, Republicans were unable to override the veto with Democrats present, given they needed a three-fifths majority to do so. It may not have been illegal, but it was dirty politics — and certainly unethical in my book.

More spy stuff.

The U.S. government concluded that Israel was “most likely” behind the placement of cellphone surveillance devices around the White House and throughout Washington D.C. The devices are called, “StingRays”and are used to mimic cell phone towers to pick up pings that give over location and identity data. They can sometimes capture the content of calls. Click.

A story that matters.

California’s Senate has passed a law that could drastically change the “gig economy.” The bill will force companies like Uber and Postmates to reclassify their workers as employees. For now, those workers are classified as contractors, so they absorb a lot of the job’s cost (like using their own cars). This bill would guarantee those workers things like sick leave and minimum wage. Uber, which is struggling to profit and recently had layoffs, says the bill would destroy their business. Read more.

Have a nice day.

Did you know that once an organ is taken from a body for donation, the best technologies we have can only keep it viable for 9 hours? A new method developed by Harvard investigators is changing that. A team of scientists figured out a way to keep organs at subzero temperatures in a solution that prevents them from freezing or being damaged by the cold temperatures. They say the storage method will triple the time organs like livers are viable. That means a liver could last for 27 hours instead of 9, a total game changer. Right now, just 36,500 of the 730,000 patients who need organs  get them every year. This is going to move the needle.

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