The Food and Drug Administration banned Juul products but the Court of...

The Food and Drug Administration banned Juul products but the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled Juul products can be sold while the company argues its case. Credit: Getty Images/Mario Tama

So just how dangerous — and to whom — does a vice need to be to deserve banning?

Vape-maker Juul is in the news because on June 23 the Food and Drug Administration banned sales of its products. But on June 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled Juul products can be sold while the company argues its case.

This ban is on Juul’s tobacco- and menthol-flavored offerings, all that’s left to shut down. Fruit- and candy-flavored nicotine vapes made by Juul and other companies were federally banned in 2020, so that’s taken care of!

Except not.

The earlier ban was on flavored vapes using natural nicotine. Now the fruit- and candy-flavored vape business is dominated by Puff Bar, selling similar flavors but in disposable vapes, with synthetic nicotine, which is not banned.

The government tried to bar such flavors because they lure kids who’ve never smoked into vaping, and for some that leads to cigarettes, too. The sales pitch from the industry has been that vaping gets current smokers off cigarettes: Getting kids who’ve never smoked addicted to nicotine via vaping is not anyone’s idea of a good thing, save perhaps some villainous vape-industry moguls.

But users of the old kid-friendly Juul pods can still get similar products, often from fly-by-night producers who might throw any toxic ingredient into a flavor pod. This happened with black market marijuana vapes in 2019, which caused at least 34 deaths nationwide. Juul, with a $13 billion investment from cigarette-maker Altria and a high profile, faces higher standards.

Juul’s current fight with the FDA is over whether it provided enough data on genetic damage its products may cause, and potential leaks of chemicals from the pods, though the FDA says it sees no imminent danger.

Meanwhile, the FDA also wants to make tobacco companies cut the amount of nicotine in their cigarettes, to become less addictive. And ban menthol cigarettes, which are particularly popular among, and thus deadly to, Black people.

In New York, which also banned all flavored vapes in 2020 because candy and fruit flavors attract minors, legal recreational marijuana products are expected by the end of the year. Including fruit- and candy-flavored and menthol THC vapes. And actual marijuana candy. Which unsuspecting (or salivating) minors may savor even more than candy-flavored synthetic nicotine steam.

In the United States vapes, legal marijuana and alcohol are banned for those under 21, and easily acquired by those under 21.

Also worth noting: Newly legalized marijuana contains four times as much carcinogenic tar as the tobacco that society and the government have blasted for decades. Nicotine, the active ingredient in those tarless vapes, does not cause cancer.

Balancing liberty and safety is among the toughest challenges a free society faces. For the rules to make sense, what’s banned and what’s allowed must be based on a philosophical framework.

Letting people consume whatever they want, and stopping companies from lying about the impacts of those products, is the cleanest solution. Banning any seriously damaging consumer product is a strong second.

But making the decisions based on a combination of randomness and lobbying influence is about the worst way to go.

That’s how we got a system that wants to ban anything that might lead people to smoking the world’s most dangerous consumer product, cigarettes, but hardly makes a move toward a blanket ban of that incredibly deadly, incredibly profitable product itself.

Columnist Lane Filler's opinions are his own.