Even If Marijuana Is Legalized, Vaping Might Not Be

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Vaping is becoming a fast alternative to lighting up, both for tobacco and marijuana. But as the trend continues to explode on a wave of new marijuana approvals, those in favor of regulating the industry are proposing rules that could keep the market underground, at least for recreational purposes.

In April 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released its proposal to expand its oversight of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. The organization currently oversees the quality of cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco, and smokeless tobacco. Because little is known about the health risks associated with e-cigarettes, the FDA also proposed adding them to the list.

In its “deeming act,” the FDA cites the discovery of certain toxic chemicals in e-cigarettes, including formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, as one of the reasons more oversight is required. “…FDA believes that its oversight of these products (which would occur if this deeming ruling becomes final) is appropriate for the protection of the public health,” the organization wrote in its proposal.

The agency also cites their concern about youth being more enticed by the “novel” smoking products, and would like to increase regulation in efforts to keep teens from trying the e-cigarettes and vaporizers. “The additional restrictions that FDA seeks to promulgate for the proposed deemed products would reduce initiation and increase cessation (particularly among youth),” according to the proposal. In other words, the FDA wants to make it really difficult for kids to get within 1,000 yards of any stick with a blue light on the end, or mist coming from the mouthpiece.

The organization writes that the proposal is consistent with other ways the FDA treats traditional tobacco products, in that teens would need to be 18 and older to purchase the products. The agency estimates that the initial costs for the rules to go into effect would cost $171 million or more, and would be paid in order for companies to register their product, submit paperwork, and label their products. Final action on the proposal is expected in June 2015.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Keep in mind, those costs and rules are just for the tobacco industry. Marijuana vaping is quietly in the background, as vapers have begun to switch out their nicotine cartridges in favor of liquid cannabid oils. In some medical instances, the practice is government-sanctioned. For example, when New York passed medical marijuana legislation in June 2014, an accompanying edict banned smoking. Instead, people with prescriptions could reap the drug’s medicinal (though not high-inducing) effects through edibles, tinctures and vaping.

But for recreational use, the issue hasn’t been formally discussed because so few states allow the practice in the first place. Following Colorado, Washington state, Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia, five states are expected to have a ballot measure in 2016, including California and Massachusetts. Another five states are expected to present bills by 2017, including Maryland and Vermont.

Regulations surrounding all forms of vaping and e-cigarettes continue to swirl in political patterns: Many Democrats would like to see the regulations put into place, while House Republicans fight against the regulations, claiming the new rules could impose an administrative product ban. Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said that’s likely because “most Republicans are loathe to expand government’s role in the public square.”

At the heart of the Democrat’s call for regulation is the issue of safety. And in the marijuana industry, which has had much less time to figure out standard rules than tobacco, there are some causes for concern. For example, the process of making highly-concentrated hash oil for vaping was the subject of Slate’s “Baking Bad” article. When butane is used to separate the components in marijuana by amateurs in garages, the results can be disastrous, reminiscent of meth-labs-gone-wrong disasters.

According to a Rasmussen poll of 1,000 likely voters, about 56% of people surveyed were in favor of “legalizing and regulating marijuana in a similar manner to the way alcohol and tobacco cigarettes are regulated.” However, it’s hard to tell if people heard “legalizing” and ignored “regulating.” For now, vape users who would prefer to smoke marijuana instead of nicotine can quietly do so. But with a growing number of people trying it, and a number of pot-specific vaporizers hitting the market, it’s only a matter of time before it’s placed in the FDA’s crosshairs.

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