Unpacking the Sausage: Flavortown vs. Big Tobacco

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In theory, I quit smoking the day I found out I’d passed the bar exam.

Having steadily increased my nicotine consumption over a period of roughly 13 years, I was at a pack a day of Marlboro Smooth 100’s by the time I was puttering around a law office waiting to hear my fate from the Board of Bar Overseers. When the days I spent constantly refreshing the website finally yielded news that I’d passed, the first thing I did was cry. The second thing I did was explain to my boss at the time that I was crying from happiness and relief. The third thing I did was walk down to the local vape shop.

Bre KidmanI told myself that my well of reasons for stress-smoking had dried up. It was time to move on to the next chapter of my life. This assessment was laughably naïve in retrospect, but I was onto something. Even on my worst days since, I’ve never made it through a whole pack.

On recommendations from friends who’d quit smoking, I purchased a small “box mod” style vaporizer and some aggressively mentholated liquid to fill the tank. It took a little tinkering with different flavors to find the right ratio of that’s delicious to that burns my throat enough to calm my brain down, but I was surprised to find that within a week I was disinterested in lighting up. The vape smelled good and tasted good. Once my initial “quitter’s flu” passed, I was able to appreciate that an awful lot.

As the months wore on, the benefits of quitting smoking began to add up. Despite clinging to my vaporizer like a pacifier, my wallet was noticeably heavier than it had been when I was smoking. I stopped hacking up jelly when I woke up every morning. My lung capacity grew leaps and bounds. By the time winter hit, I realized my annual four-month-long hacking cough wasn’t coming back. My blood pressure returned to normal, even though I hadn’t lost a single pound. 

I recognize this is all anecdata. There hasn’t been enough research about the impact of vaporizers to know whether they offer meaningful reprieve from the long-term effects of smoking. The lack of time and funding to study various components of vaporizer liquids is partly to blame — though pharmaceutical companies regularly unleash more dangerous products with less information. Perhaps if such studies were conducted, it might be possible to propose legislation designed to standardize formulas and ingredients for vape juices that allow them to function more effectively as the harm reduction tool they were intended to be.

Instead, legislators have leaped directly past that perfectly reasonable safeguard, sailing clear into the land of banning all flavored nicotine products. Proponents argue that more kids are vaping today, flushing years of anti-tobacco efforts down the toilet. This may be partially true, but you know what’s not getting flushed? That single Newport I recall furtively passing around among a gaggle of fellow teens in the stall of the girls’ bathroom back in the aughties. 

I’m not saying people who don’t use tobacco should pick up an ElfBar and go to town. Nicotine is probably not a net-good for people who wouldn’t otherwise use it, but we need to demand nuance in public policy if we want it to actually serve the aims of reducing overall harm to the public. Kids are always going to reach for forbidden fruit, but it’s not like we’re seeing an uptick in kids chewing all the “cool” flavors of Nicorette gum.

Anyway, that’s enough out of me. I had a stressful week at my new office in Portland. I walked past three cannabis stores in hopes of picking up a disposable vape during a particularly tense afternoon. Thanks to these ridiculous flavor bans, I couldn’t get one anywhere in the city. I didn’t have any trouble finding a pack of Marlboro Red 100’s, though, so that’s what I got. I wonder how many of the Maine kids the legislature is trying to save will do the same.

Bre Kidman is an artist, activist, and attorney (in that order), and the first openly non-binary person in history to run for the U.S. Senate. They would be delighted to hear your thoughts on the political industrial complex at [email protected].

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