Why Banning JUUL is More Harmful Than Smoking

I don’t have kids, but I used to be one.

Mitchell Earl
Sep 24 · 5 min read
Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of posts from people applauding the JUUL ban as a great move toward protecting “our youth”.

Yet I can’t help thinking that opinion is a bit moronic (even if well-intended).

It’s not because I want my nieces or nephews swallowing up lung-fulls of cotton-candy flavored poison, either. But, I do care about being honest and protecting our freedom to choose and learn for ourselves.

Personally, I don’t think banning tobacco protects kids from addiction. In many cases, I imagine it makes things worse — and I would know.

I was a heavy tobacco user as a teen and through my early 20s. But not because of “Its addictive properties.”

As a teenager, I felt most of the major decisions in my life had already been made for me by adults. And tobacco offered one small act of rebellion that allowed me to exercise what little personal agency I still felt I had.

So, naturally, I gravitated toward things adults said were “off limits.” Because the only time I actually felt free was when I was breaking rules.

It’s a pity, too. Because I probably could’ve done a lot of cooler stuff when I was a teenager had I felt like I had the permission to.

But I didn’t. Because permission was not something society seemed very keen on bestowing upon young people then, just like it doesn’t seem so now. In fact, I believe quite the opposite to be true.

In the name of protecting young people from harm, I think a lot of adults default to insulating them from a lot of the “bad stuff” in the world.

They tell ’em they’re not old enough and their brains aren’t developed enough to make their own decisions about alcohol or tobacco or sex.

And worse yet, this same kind of protectionist-thinking bleeds over in to other areas of their lives too. Like, whether or not they should go to college, or where they should work, or who they should marry.

But if you ask me, I think it’s all a load of horse shit.

I think we’d all end up a lot happier if everyone just let people be and allowed them to bear the direct costs of their decisions — young people in particular.

For example, if you don’t want your kid smoking, well, make them pay for their own health insurance. (It’s how my mom eventually convinced me to stop dipping tobacco.)

I just think back to that time in my life and realize what I was craving wasn’t to break rules so much as just the freedom to make up my own damn mind. But wherever I look today it seems like there are a lot of people trying harder and harder to strip away our freedom to choose for ourselves.

And whether you think teens are ready to make their own decisions or not, you gotta know there’s something extremely powerful in believing you have the permission to choose your own way.

But just imagine how hard that’s gotta be for a young person to grasp today? And no, not because teen brains aren’t big enough yet.

It’s gotta be hard because our world seems really good at making rules to protect them from themselves — and because of their station in lives, young people often don’t have a say in the rules.

So, two incentives naturally emerge: either get really good at following the rules, or get really good at breaking them.

Personally, I grew up constantly at odds with the rules because I never knew which incentive was actually going to help me get ahead or cause me harm. And I put my hand on the stove more times than I can count until I eventually realized it’s silly to blindly follow all the rules — sometimes it’s easier to follow the rules, and sometimes, there are just bad rules.

Sadly, I think a lot of people grow up in incentive structures that make it really hard to imagine they have permission to do anything on their own. Maybe they have parents who lord their money or inheritance over their heads. Or they have teachers who threaten they’ll fail them. Or maybe they just look out into the great big world and see how cruel it can be to people who don’t color perfectly inside the lines.

Who knows? Regardless, I don’t think banning more things makes it any easier to chase after stuff we want in life.

The real point I’m driving at is that I think we all stand our best chance of becoming the best we can be when we’re given the freedom and autonomy to experiment and explore and make decisions on our own — even if that means we make some mistakes along the way.

But when we’re never given the chance, I think a lot of us end up walking around as half-empty versions of ourselves out of fear of stepping out of line because the consequences are just too damn high.

And I think that’s kind of crazy because I think we’re all meant for a whole helluva lot more than just being really good at following rules. No matter our age.

I mean, we’re all part of the same species that sailed around the world in wooden ships, built the Empire State Building, and landed on the moon.

And if you ask me, none of that cool stuff ever would’ve been accomplished if people had been waiting around for permission to do it.

PS — When I say “young people” here you gotta know I mean it tongue-in-cheek. I still carry the same chip on my shoulder for “adults” looking down on me now that I did at 17.

I originally published this via firstcareerjob.com – a daily newsletter where I break down early career jobs and how to win them along with daily insights on how to live better.

Mitchell Earl

Written by

Author of Don’t Do Stuff You Hate. | Director of Marketing @CareerCrash | Prev. @Ceterus @TheOdyssey | Learn more at https://crash.co/mitchellearl

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