Do Bans Work? The Arguments Against Prohibition

Do Bans Work? The Arguments Against Prohibition

Many e-cigarette users might not give any consideration to the laws that govern what they buy, others might not care for politics at all, but everything from the type of tank we use to the amount of nicotine in an e-liquid is tightly controlled by the government. As we enter the post-Brexit world, MPs will soon be changing legislation applied to vape products and there are those who are campaigning for the laws to be made tighter. We ask: do bans and restrictions work?

A simple case study when considering the benefit of prohibiting consumables would be to look at the successes of banning alcohol during Prohibition or how well the “war on drugs” has gone.

The temperance movement sought to end the evils of alcohol use in 1920, citing the need to clamp down on alcoholism, corruption and violence in the home. By doing so, they managed to achieve a rise in crime and a rampant rum-running black market.

Critics have long been arguing that the only impact the war on drugs has had was to guarantee profits for criminals and reduce the quality of the product to sometimes dangerous levels for the consumers. They accused President Nixon of racist motives and President Reagan of discriminatory consequences, but the world seemed locked into the single solution mindset (bar the odd progressive country like the Netherlands and Portugal).

But, with the last American election, it has all started to unravel; Oregon decriminalised all drugs while “Arizona, New Jersey, Montana, and South Dakota passed measures to legalize marijuana for adult use” [source].

America’s stance on electronic cigarettes/vaping has inspired many nations to take prohibitionist stances. What did we see? South Africa banned cigarettes and vape products during the COVID-19 pandemic and saw an instant boom in black market activity (with a little political corruption thrown in for good measure). In the Philippines, eyebrows were raised when it was discovered foreign money was buying influence in the legislative process surrounding vaping.

Last year, Dr Marewa Glover explained that the reasons there appears to be such a pushback against vaping are not so much that it is a disruptive technology threatening an existing market, but more that it threatens the way things have traditionally been done by tobacco controllers. E-cigs have made the attack personal.

UK politicians will soon be considering whether to get rid of the maximum limit for nicotine e-liquid content of 20mg/ml liquid, and also the 2ml capacity restriction applied to vape tanks, but ideologically funded forces at the University of Bath and Action on Smoking and Health oppose this – they are demanding the restrictions stay and are made tighter with the application of plain packaging and the removal of all flavours bar tobacco.

For some, it seems, the lessons of history will never be taken on board for as Christopher Snowdon, Institute for Economic Affairs, recently wrote: “Prohibition is a great idea! So long as you can stop people wanting to buy the product and stop other people selling the product, there’s no problem.” [source]