California, the Golden State, home of Hollywood, half the world’s ten biggest companies and four of the world’s ten richest people; more people than in four out of five of the world’s countries, and the world’s biggest economy that isn’t a country. Famously liberal in outlook (forget for a moment that Ronald Reagan was its governor before becoming US president) and often looked on – not just in America but across much of the world – as a trendsetter.
Both chambers of its legislature are firmly in the control of the Democratic Party, which has very nearly twice as many registered voters there as the opposition Republicans. Governor (for now, anyway) Gavin Newsom is a Democrat. By US standards, California is clearly on the liberal left. But that doesn’t make it liberal in all things.
In fact, the dominant approach there to vaping is anything but liberal. And therein lies a paradox that can be seen repeated right across the US and far beyond.
It shows up most sharply when you compare official attitudes to e-cigarettes and cannabis. It’s not a universal truth (there are countries where both are still regarded with deep suspicion), but trendsetting California is at the forefront of a trend that is clearly identifiable across the US: those states that are keenest on legalising cannabis are the most eager to clamp down hard on vaping, and vice-versa.
It’s hard to see why this should be – hard, too, to see why the Democratic Party should have come to be associated with cannabis, while the Republicans are more likely to be pro-vape. Hard, but not impossible. Not once you recognise that it has nothing whatever to do with logic and everything to do with cultural history.
Democrats, particularly Californian Democrats, have long been linked with what used to be known as the counterculture – think hippies, West Coast soft rock, cannabis. While the Republican Party is the party of big business – freedom from taxation rather than freedom to smoke dope.
To Democrats like Californian senator Anna Caballero, sponsor of the current bill to place a 12.5% sales tax on e-cigarettes, e-cigarettes are a device by which wicked Big Tobacco intends to keep the post-smoking world hooked on nicotine. Never mind that her aim of bringing “closer tax parity” between e-cigs and combustibles is a plan to drive vapers and would-be vapers back to smoking.
The irony is that the constant attack on vaping, through taxation, flavour bans, extreme regulation, extreme rhetoric and the rest of it, in fact plays into the hands of big business by forcing smaller competitors out of the game.
While the support for cannabis – based no doubt on a romantic association with the anti-establishment past of the former hippies who are now aging senators and representatives – is also a massive boon to big bad business. Ironically spelling the end of its place in the counterculture. Which in its paradoxical way is as California as The Beach Boys.
– Aidan Semmens ECigIntelligence staff
Photo: Sticker Giant