There are a lot of things that we as a society allow adults to do that we don’t allow kids to do.
Smoking. Drinking. Gambling. Voting. Joining the military. Entering into contracts. Operating heavy machinery.
We set minimum age limits to protect kids from the potentially harmful effects and to give them time to mature so they can make their own decisions as adults.
By the time we reach adulthood, we’re allegedly mature enough and experienced enough to make such decisions and to deal with the consequences. So society entitles adults to do these things.
But a line is crossed when government starts preventing adults from doing adult things solely because it doesn’t want children to be doing them.
And that’s exactly the line the Albany County Legislature will consider crossing tonight if it votes on a proposed ban, Local Law “E,” on flavored tobacco and e-cigarette/vaping products.
The idea, supported by health advocates and others, is noble.
Kids have increasingly been taking up vaping and other electronic-smoking, the negative health effects of which are now just coming to light.
They’re enticed by advertising and marketing, including chemicals flavored to taste like fruit and candy and sold with names like unicorn poop and cotton candy designed to appeal to kids.
It’s certainly not a habit we want kids to be taking up. But regardless of our fear about children picking up the habit, vaping is currently legal for adults to do.
Adults don’t just enjoy this habit for the simple pleasure they derive from it.
These flavored chemicals are used effectively by millions of smokers to wean themselves off the deadly habit of smoking tobacco. That’s crucial to this.
In the name of preventing kids from purchasing these items, the flavor ban by Albany County would deprive adults of the opportunity to purchase them.
If lawmakers want to prevent kids from taking up the habit, they already have the tools at their disposal to do so.
Government can restrict marketing of these items to children, as it required tobacco manufacturers to do decades ago.
It can restrict access to flavored vaping chemicals by requiring purchasers to show proof of age and by limiting kids’ access to such products and advertising in stores. It can sanction retailers that sell these products to kids, just as it sanctions businesses that allow kids to gamble and purchase cigarettes and alcohol. And it can support educational efforts to alert kids and adults to the potential dangers of vaping, as it does now.
In fact, New York has already approved new vaping-related restrictions that will take effect statewide next year.
The logic behind Albany County’s effort doesn’t jibe with the way society addresses other activities it restricts to adults only.
Prohibition didn’t work the first time.
It won’t work this time, either.