CO118 Andrew Branca on Gun Law

Andrew Branca is a lifelong NRA member, a lawyer who consults on self-defence law and the author of The Law of Self Defense: The Indispensable Guide to the Armed Citizen.

During our discussion, I metioned the Dickey Amendment, which forbids the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from advocating or promoting gun control, but has widely been interpreted as preventing the CDC from studying the health effects of gun ownership.

I also mentioned sutdies that show that owning a gun does not reduce the chance of being the victim of a gun attack, and that gun ownership is not associated with a reduction in crime.

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Back in episode 107, I talked to David Dayen on the Economics of vaping, particularly the huge expansion in the market reach and the valuation of the market leader, Juul.

At the time we noted that Juul say that they are a healthier alternative to smoking, that even if it isn’t healthy, it is healthier. They are saving people from the worst effects of their addiction. But the suspicion was that, although they denied it, rather than reducing the number of smokers, they are targeting children to expand the number of people addicted to nicotine.

Some information that has been uncovered since then doesn’t exactly reassure the people who might have doubted their word. Documents presented to the House Oversight Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy show just what Juul has been doing to not target children with their products.

Let’s be clear here – the suspicion is that Juul, now owned by the same company that makes Marlboro cigarettes – is trying to get children addicted to nicotine before they can make a mature decision as to whether that is something they want in their life. Research shows that almost all smokers who get addicted to nicotine do so before the age of 18, and the small portion who take up smoking as adults are much more likely to quit quickly, and find quitting easy. Lifelong smokers start as child smokers.

And those documents show that Juul knows this, and is determined to exploit it ruthlessly. For example, Juul spent $134,000 sponsoring a five-week “holistic health education” summer camp that targeted kids as young as eight years old. They did it under the cover name of the Freedom and Democracy Schools Foundation, in exchange for access to data collected about the kids at the camp, including assessments of their general health knowledge and attitudes towards risky behaviors.

Juul is also offering ten grand to any school that will teach a curriculum that it has devised. The agreement requires school districts to provide dates and times of the classes so that they can be observed by so-called Juul Consultants, so not only are lessons being turned into cheap advertising for the company, they again get to collect data about their target customers, the better to target them in the future. I wonder how many parents would consent to making their kids into unpaid research subjects in the drive to get them addicted.

On top of all of that, Juul spent large amounts of money with a company called Grit Creative hiring them to hire social media influencers to subtly promote their product. It’s clear that they made no effort at all to restrict that promotion to over-18s. It’s also clear that Grit Creative have a specialty in promoting products aimed at the teenage market.

So what to make of all this? I’m sure that some people disapprove of vaping nicotine, an addictive substance, on principle. I can understand that, but I don’t agree. If an adult makes the choice that they want to do that, or smoke cigarettes, or marijuana, I can disagree, but I think that’s their right.

But marketing addictive products to children is a different matter. Children are not allowed smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, have sex, sign contracts or make other decisions, because there is good evidence that they’re not sufficiently developed to make a mature assessment of the consequences.

Getting addicted to nicotine via vaping is clearly in the same league, particularly since we know that if they get addicted as children, no matter how much they want to, they find it more difficult to kick the habit later in life.

Juul might argue back – I don’t think that they would say it in public, but it’s clearly what they’re thinking – they might argue that their business model doesn’t work without getting children hooked, because very few people take up nicotine as adults, and the few who do mostly quit. Well, that’s their problem. People who make photocopiers, pagers and cassette tapes have all seen their once-profitable business models evaporate. Altria, the tobacco company that bought out Juul, is free to get into any market it chooses. But it is evidently in the public interest, and in the interest of children, to prevent them from being targeted in the marketing of addictive products.

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