This past weekend the major news outlets (network, cable and print) carried story after story arising out of the same events – the death of five people that are connected to inhaling chemicals from so-called e-cigarettes. (MSNBC may be the single exception because they haven’t yet figured out a way to make it President Donald Trump’s fault. I never watch MSNBC so I cannot be sure whether they carried anything on the story.)
So that we are all on the same page this is about “vaping” – a process by which chemicals in a tube are heated to produce a “vapor” containing nicotine and other chemicals and are then inhaled through a tube designed to emulate a cigarette. You can usually spot the morons who are vaping by the oversized cloud of vapor they produce while exhaling.
Apparently medical science has not yet produced a direct causal relationship between vaping and the serious respiratory impairments that have resulted in some users, but there appears to be at least sufficient statistical relationships that they are concluding that vaping was the “cause” of the deaths. Enough so that the talking heads are now wringing their collective hands wondering what should be done about this “new” crises.
Let me help.
One of the measures of a healthy society is whether the government seeks to profit from the addictive behaviors of its people. By such a measure, most state governments (and the federal government) fail miserably. They fail because they have recognized that the most disruptive forms of conduct can be a huge source of revenue for the government. Thus we see, particularly state governments tax, in ever increasing amounts, cigarettes and tobacco products, marijuana, liquor (including beer and wine), gambling (including casino style gambling and government run lotteries) and now vaping. Granted that it is only fifteen of the states that have specifically targeted vaping but the rest will soon follow. Vaping contains nicotine and is as addictive as traditional cigarettes and the fact that it is addictive raises its profile as a ready source of revenue.
Now you may properly raise the issue that the costs to society (mostly healthcare) caused by such addictive behaviors should not be borne by those innocent of those behaviors. But that is not what happens. Tax revenue is largely fungible and one cannot tell whether a particular tax dollar is used for paying legislative salaries, maintaining administrative records, providing public safety through uniformed personnel or providing abortions on demand. Even in instances where the legislature claims to “earmark” certain revenue sources it is most often “replacement” revenue – in other words the general fund was paying for the service previously and now it is funded in part by the “earmark” funds which simply relieves the general fund to pay for other services. A real dedication of a revenue source would, in fact, reduce the amount of overall general fund spending resulting in a reduction in general taxes.
It is not my intention to debate the relative or comparative damage of cigarettes or gambling or alcohol or even marijuana. Because those addictions already are embedded in government finances, any attempt to resolve them carries with it the whole system of government finance and its attendant programs. Rather what I am suggesting is that the emergence of vaping as a new addiction gives government an opportunity to act responsibly rather than gluttonously.
Instead of profiting from the addiction to vaping, government ought to ban it as a dangerous substance. There is no alternative use for vaping that is beneficial to society and simply eliminating it would not interfere with any guaranteed rights. Because it is relatively new on the scene and governments have not become addicted to it as a revenue source, the act of banning vaping has virtually no negative societal effects.
But that isn’t going to happen. State government will now move quickly to exact a tax on vaping and add it to the long list of dependency of government on addictive revenues.
It tells you a lot about your government and the kind of people you send to represent you.