Multimillionaire Michael Bloomberg has been leading a fanatical crusade in favor of “healthy lifestyle” for years. One of the most tragicomic points of his crusade was the attempt, when he was mayor of New York, to ban jumbo-sized sugary soft drinks. The proposal, which was eventually rejected by the courts, sought to limit the size of soft drinks in restaurants, movie theaters, food courts, food trucks, etc.
After his tenure as mayor, Bloomberg’s paternalistic strategy has been channeled through a constellation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), supranational organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), and various grants to national governments coordinated by Bloomberg Philanthropies.
For years, this Bloomberg-funded activism has fiercely attacked any innovative alternative to tobacco harm reduction. Its great bête noire, tragically, is vaping.
Thus, in his failed presidential campaign, the tycoon announced that if elected he would ban flavors for all so-called electronic cigarettes. This would have been a virtual ban on vaping since 80 percent of the market is concentrated in flavored products.
This campaign idea was accompanied by a $160 million donation to fight vaping. It came in the context of the fake health crisis caused by a mini outbreak of lung injury (known as EVALI) attributed to nicotine vaping.
In reality, as explained by Public Health England, “based partly on the fact that the outbreak affected a very specific population and how the rate of new cases peaked and fell… a ‘bad batch’ of illicit cannabis vaping products may be to blame. US authorities have since identified vitamin E acetate added to cannabis products as a ‘primary cause’ of the outbreak. Vitamin E acetate is banned from UK regulated nicotine-containing e-cigarettes.”
However, in late 2019, and coinciding with the peak of paranoia regarding EVALI, an unknown Philadelphia-based company called Hava Health launched the “Hale,” a vaporizer intended to help its users quit smoking. Currently, its makers are waiting for approval from the U.S. regulator FDA.
In defense of the public?
Hale is a product that, like vaping, is presented as a healthier alternative to smoking. However, unlike vaping and other harm reduction products, Hale aims to completely eliminate the use of nicotine no matter what vehicle is used to consume it.
This, in principle, may be a laudable goal. Even taking into account that what is harmful in traditional cigarettes is not the nicotine itself but the harmful substances found in the tar combined with carbon monoxide.
The problem lies in the fact that one of the investors in the company is none other than Michael Bloomberg himself. Through a venture capital consortium called Village Global, which also includes Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, Bloomberg has provided seed capital to the company Hava, creator of the Hale.
In fact, the Hale device has all the features of other vaporizers (Juul would be the most obvious example). Thus, the Hale looks ultra-modern and sophisticated, with a design very similar to that of a USB stick. It administers nicotine to its users and even offers flavors. Ironically, the possibility Bloomberg wants to curtail all other alternatives.
In his recent documentary You don’t know nicotine, sociologist and filmmaker Aaron Biebert not only warns about Bloomberg’s suspicious investments in Hale, but also, at the end of the film, suggests an interesting hypothesis: Could it be that the attempts to ban vaping and the disinformation campaigns driven by the American billionaire are aimed at creating a favorable environment only for his own product?
It is certainly worth considering that Bloomberg’s postmodern puritanism is actually a pincer movement between draconian bans and limitations, on the one hand, and harassment of both innovators and small retailers, on the other.
This mechanism is known as regulatory capture. Through it, regulation becomes a tool that the powerful use to eliminate competition and create conditions in which only they can survive.
Perhaps the Hale device and the monetization of his crusade is just the icing on the paternalistic cake. Maybe the American tycoon is convinced that his efforts to generate a nanny state that tells us everything we have to do is for our own good.
Whatever his motivations, Bloomberg’s play on vaping is extremely dangerous and inhumane.
We should never encourage bans or treat adults as if they were children, but create as open a climate as possible for innovators to solve problems. This applies to smoking as well as in many other areas.
More importantly, according to a recent article published by the journal Science, “the most conservative estimates suggest that were vaping nicotine to replace most smoking over the next 10 years, 1.6 million premature deaths would be avoided and 20.8 million quality adjusted years of life would be saved in the United States alone. The greatest gains would be among younger cohorts.”
The stakes go certainly far beyond a billionaire’s ego and profits.
Federico N. Fernandez is Executive Director of the Latin American Network Somos Innovación and Senior Fellow of the Austrian Economics Center