Deal Flow/Opinion

The problem with profiting from vaping

No one has the right to profit from causing illness and injury to others

Photo by Richard Asinof

Vaping supplies at a local convenience story in Providence.

By Dr. Michael Fine
Posted 10/28/19
Dr. Michael Fine questions the right of those in the vaping industry to complain that their rights to make money by harming others are being violated by efforts to regulate and restrict vaping products.
What are the best legal strategies that can be deployed to challenge the vaping industry in Rhode Island? Is there an opportunity for doctors to step up and talk publicly about the dangers of vaping, such as sharing images of MRIs that show the damage done to lungs from vaping? What is the connection of the vaping industry to the growing marijuana and CBD industries?
On Wednesday morning, Oct. 30, the Washington County Coalition for Children will present the latest statistics about vaping among teens in the area, quantifying the facts around that one in five Rhode Island high school students are reported to be using e-cigarettes.
The event, which is free, will take place at the Thundermist Health Center in Wakefield, from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. The key presenter will be Daniel Fitzgerald, the network coordinator for the American Lung Association, which oversees Tobacco Free Rhode Island.
“Vaping is a major public health problem,” said Susan Orban, who is the Coalition coordinator.

SCITUATE – You might not think that vaping, the controversial process that allows people to inhale tobacco and other vapors without smoking, has anything to do with repentance or atonement – the personal or spiritual practice of taking stock of the person that one is, and committing to change.

But the current debate about vaping, occurring by happenstance at the time of the Jewish High Holidays when repentance is on the minds of some, is just the kind of conversation that should enable us look hard into ourselves and who we have become.

Straight, no chaser
The public health position about vaping is straightforward. There is good public health evidence that vaping has sickened nearly 1,500 people, and killed at least 33.

And, there is also clear evidence that vaping is addicting hundreds of thousands of teenagers to nicotine, creating a road to addiction, misery and heartbreak.

If vaping were the model for a new jetliner, it would have been grounded long ago, at least until its safety and reliability could be tested.

The correct public health policy would be to ban all vaping by anyone under 18, ban all favored vaping products [which appear to exist for the express purpose of addicting teenagers] and to restrict vaping to current smokers who use it as a way to reduce the harms caused by smoking, requiring that the machinery and cartridges needed for vaping be available only by prescription.

Poisoning for profit
What concerns me about vaping in Rhode Island isn’t the Governor’s executive order, which, in my opinion, is helpful but half-hearted. [The Massachusetts ban seems more appropriate.]

What concerns me about vaping in Rhode Island is the push back from vape shops and other retailers, as well as vaping manufacturers and wholesalers, who have been asking, plaintively: “What about us?” Don’t we have a right to make a living?

The need for repentance is intrinsic in that question. Because, the short answer is no. No you don’t have a right to make a living by profiting from the illness and injury to others. I believe that no one has that right.

Our society, indeed, our democracy, depends on certain fundamental moral positions, the most fundamental of which is that no person should ever profit from the illness or injury to anyone else.

To allow such profiteering is to encourage each of us to harm the other, if there is profit to be made. A world of people at war with one another is a world at war with itself, a world in which there is no hope of society, no hope of peace, security, freedom or the pursuit of happiness, ever.

But something in us – and in our culture – has legitimized the question: “Don’t we have a right to make a living?” regardless of how that living is to be made.

Something in us allows people to go on TV and talk radio and shamelessly argue for their right to profit from the injury to others, and thus their right to destroy the society and the democracy we have built together.

Over the past few weeks, I have been reflecting on many things in my life, many failures, much incompleteness and too many disrupted relationships.

I hope you will join me in also reflecting on how we have let our culture get out of control, and how we have gotten to the point that we listen when someone complains of the loss of their right to profit from another’s misfortune.

And then I hope you will join me in trying to change that culture, to turn away from this destructive idea, and to turn toward a way of thinking and acting that helps us be better together, to be stronger because of the society and democracy that we build by thinking clearly about who we are and who we can be.

I hope I, and we, can we focus only on how much we all profit from one another’s strengths and one another’s successes, in the coming year and the years to come, and hope we chase away those who seek to profit one another’s addictions and misfortunes.

Dr. Michael Fine is a frequent contributor to ConvergenceRI.

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