There was no shortage of cringe-worthy moments at last night's Candidate Survivor, the Stranger's semi-annual beauty pageant in which candidates for political office humiliate themselves in front of an audience. This was my first time attending, so I'm not sure how it was compared to other years on the Oh Fuck This is Awkward Scale, but when District 7 candidate Jim Pugel—a former cop who was booed each time he walked on stage—announced he had to leave for a famliy emergency, my first thought was, "Lucky dude."
There was a lot to be ashamed of last night—the "talent" show portion of the evening immediately comes to mind—but among the most shameful moments was when council candidates Dan Strauss, Heidi Wills, Mark Solomon (and maybe Jim Pugel and Lisa Herbold although it was hard to tell based on their position on stage) endorsed banning e-cigarettes. The scene:
Look, vaping is stupid. We all know it. Juuling makes you look like you're chewing plastic and those big boxy ones make you look like a pickup artist. It's a very, very uncool habit—especially when there are tricks involved—and it absolutely should not be banned in Seattle or anywhere else.
The reason people who don't work for tobacco companies want to ban vapes is generally because of the children, and it is true that more teens are vaping now than they were 10 years ago when the only person doing it was Leonardo DiCaprio. Teen smoking is down, but teen vaping is obviously up, and this is a problem. Kids are too dumb to realize that they, too, will someday die, and their sense of invincibility, as well as the desire to fit in, makes them maybe the most vulnerable population for picking up self-destructive habits.
That said, there is little solid evidence that vaping is a gateway drug to smoking, and even as teen vaping rates have gone up, teen smoking rates have remained steadily down.
There is, however, evidence that vaping is an effective way for actual smokers to stop. But that's not stopping cities from trying to ban them.
San Francisco recently passed a city-wide ban on selling vape products, which the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved. "This is a decisive step to help prevent another generation of San Francisco children from becoming addicted to nicotine," City Attorney Dennis Herrera in a statement.
It's a nice thought and one that will likely appeal to parents, but as a public health measure, vape bans are likely to have a counterproductive effect, especially since tobacco products like cigarettes and cigars remain unaffected. You won't be able to buy Juul pods, but you'll still be able to get Marlboro Reds and Black&Milds. This is very stupid. According to an analysis of e-cigarettes and health by the Washington State Department of Health, while there are risks to e-cigs (for instance, they can blow up in your face), there is also "conclusive evidence that using e-cigarettes as a complete substitute for combustible tobacco cigarettes reduces users’ exposure to numerous toxicants and carcinogens present in combustible tobacco cigarettes." In other words, they're better for you than smoking. No shit.
So do people actually use e-cigs to quit smoking? Well, yes. There's anecdotal evidence for this everywhere, including at my desk, where I occasionally see a line of vapor waft over the wall separating my cubicle from Rich Smith's after he successfully switched from smoking to vaping earlier this year. As Rich wrote, "Though sucking on the end of a long thumb drive makes me look like a tool, it replaces all the addictions I developed from smoking cigarettes. It satisfies my oral fixation. It satisfies my hand-to-mouth addiction. It satisfies my need-to-just-take-deep-breaths-for-five-minutes addiction. And it satisfies the ritualistic-ending-of-a-meal addiction." His only regret, he says, is not switching sooner.
But don't just take Rich's word for it. Look at the data: According to a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, vapers had a 18 percent success rate of quitting smoking, which was nearly double that of people who used other nicotine replacement products like patches or gum. Another recent study, this one in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, polled 8,200 smokers, and they also found that vapers were the population most likely to successfully quit. The effect size wasn't huge, but it was significant: 11 percent of vapers were able to quit versus 6 percent of non-vapers.
Now, it's obviously better to inhale pure fresh air into your lungs than vape juice, but still, vaping is helping people quit smoking, and banning vape products isn't going to save a generation of kids; it's going to hurt many generations of people are trying to quit. And yet, following the San Francisco ban, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan than endorsed a vape ban in Seattle, which at least a handful of candidates in this year's city council race also seem to support.
I reached out Wills, Stauss, Solomon, Pugel, and Herbold, but only Wills, who is running against Strauss in District 6, got back to me. She says she was motivated by her kids, who were in the audience at the event. "Of all the questions asked of candidates, it was this one that left the biggest impression on my kids, ages 14 and 12," she said. "They left the event talking about vaping. It’s a big topic for teens. They are at the age where they want to be cool among their peers. Is vaping cool? Is it fun? It’s certainly not harmless."
Wills also added that her dad was a lifelong smoker who now has emphysema and requires an oxygen tank—which, to me, is a great argument for vaping—but, regardless, Wills says that while banning vaping is not a part of her platform and she thinks adults can make their own choices, "If asked about vaping on stage in front of my two kids, I’ll take a stand that leaves an impression on them that discourages vaping." Not sure if that's enough to win her the vape vote, although considering her competitor also endorsed a ban, the vapers of D6 may want to start speaking up.
No one else responded to my request before my deadline (I'll update this post if/when they do), but the way to get kids to quit vaping isn't to ban vapes for everyone else; it's to instill in them the fundamental truth that vaping makes you look like a dork.