Truth or (unintended) consequences
The crusade against vaping will do more harm than good.
When Ocean City, MD, banned smoking and vaping from its boardwalk, the city manager said visitors to the popular seaside resort would police themselves.
“Will we haul people off to jail for smoking on the boardwalk?” asked David Recor. “No, that’s not our approach.”
It hasn’t worked out that way.
This month, Denzel Elam Ruff, a 34-year-old tourist, defied an order from police to stop vaping. He was surrounded by three policemen, pushed to the ground and punched by one of the officers, cell phone footage shows.
Ruff, who is Black, was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, second-degree assault, and failure to provide proof of identification, all misdemeanors.
This wasn’t the first time that Ocean City police used force against vapers. In 2021, police tackled, tasered and arrested four Black teenagers after a confrontation over vaping on the boardwalk.
Ethan Nadelmann, the former president of the Drug Policy Alliance, noted on Twitter:
Anyone who thinks that banning #vapes, flavored #ecigs or #menthol #cigarettes is not going to replicate what we’ve seen with #marijuana #prohibition, ie, #police arresting lots of young people, especially boys and men of color, well, think again!
These violent confrontations should be kept in mind in the wake of a new report from Truth Initiative, the US’s largest anti-smoking group, that calls for bold and sweeping government actions to gradually end the use of all tobacco products — not just cigarettes, which are lethal, but safer nicotine delivery systems as well.
The report, called Gamechanger, says restrictions on the sales of cigarettes and vapes “must focus on the products themselves and policies should be written so that the violators are the manufacturers and retailers, not people who use, possess, or purchase tobacco or nicotine products.”
During a webinar about the report, Robin Koval, Truth Initiative’s president and CEO, scoffed at the idea that a ban on all tobacco products would lead to over-policing, dismissing it as “really a distraction.”