Earlier this week at a campaign stop in Iowa, Vice President Joe Biden fielded a question about the impact a vaping ban would have on small businesses. His answer revealed the paternalism that has allowed good intentions to pass nanny state public policy in America.
“I have not met with any of the particular individual small business people selling the vaping equipment and the kinds of material that you can include in and put in the pipe…I choose science over fiction. And so if the science has demonstrated is [sic] doing great damage then I don’t care what it does to a small business person who’s selling this stuff. If it is damaging lungs, if it’s causing the kind of damage that is said and that study’s’ not been fully done yet. If it turns out that it is that [sic] I would eliminate it…I would go after it in a hard way.”
Biden is not alone among the Democratic presidential candidates on this line of thinking. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also talked about eliminating vaping when campaigning in Iowa this week: “The answer is, I think, we shut down the industry if they’re causing addiction and if the evidence is that people are getting sick as a result or inhaling a lot of bad stuff.”
These comments require us to ask an important question: If leading candidates are advocating a ban on something because they view it as dangerous, addictive, or bad for Americans, what else are they willing to ban?
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reported that in 2018, 26.45 percent of people ages 18 or older engaged in binge drinking and 6.6 percent engaged in heavy alcohol use during the previous month. In the same year, 7.1 million people aged 12 to 20 reported drinking within the past month.
NIAAA also estimates that approximately 88,000 people die in the United States annually due to alcohol-related causes, making it the third leading preventable cause of death. In 2014, 9,967 deaths were caused by alcohol-impaired driving, and in 2010 alcohol misuse cost the United States a whopping $249.0 billion.
Clearly, alcohol use is widespread and causes visible damage. So, why aren’t we rushing to ban it?
Because we have already prohibited alcohol in the United States, and the results were terrible. Alcohol use increased, crime increased, and alternative substance abuse increased. It was a failure of paternalistic public policy so spectacular that it was reversed within 15 years.
You could argue along the same lines for the prohibition of drugs or the age restrictions placed upon cigarettes. In fact, you could use the line of thinking from Biden and Sanders (and many other politicians) to argue for restrictions on pretty much anything.
The government is never going to be able to save us from ourselves, nor should it be trying to do so. All a nanny state does is lead to less and less freedom. We don’t need paternalistic public policy, and that applies to vaping as well.