At the end of 2020, Congress enacted legislation that would put the health of millions of adults, particularly those living in rural communities, in jeopardy. The measure — passed without debate and stuffed into the massive omnibus spending package — imposes a government ban on the adult purchase of reduced-risk tobacco alternatives through the mail. This will push many adults back to smoking deadly combustible cigarettes.  

While many in urban and suburban areas have access to specialized stores stocking reduced risk tobacco alternatives, this is not a practical option in rural America. These Americans have the highest smoking rates in the country and large numbers are veterans who previously placed their lives on the line for this country. Now they will be banned from purchasing through the mail life-saving alternatives to tobacco such as personal vaporizers which have been proven to be 95% safer than combustible cigarettes. 

Although this legislation only specifically forbids the USPS from deliveries, it included the imposition of severe regulations and extravagant fees now required for all shipments. As a result, FedEx and UPS announced they will end home delivery of vaping products, leaving no recourse for rural smokers wanting to quit to purchase these products legally. FedEx will end vapor shipments on March 1 and UPS will do so on April 5.

Sadly while Americans in rural areas will suffer, cigarette manufacturers will benefit as adults revert to their previous smoking habit.

This will have deadly consequences. An analysis coordinated by Georgetown University Medical Center and performed by leading cancer researchers found that if a majority of U.S. smokers made the switch to vaping, more than 6.6 million premature deaths would be avoided. Of these lives saved, 1.5 million would be from rural communities.  

For Alabama grandmother Leslie Ross, this legislation is personal. After 27 years of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, and multiple attempts to quit with nicotine patches, gum, and prescription medications, Ross made the switch to vaping products. Since then, her asthma and COPD, which she was diagnosed with at the age of 24, have drastically improved. “Vaping has saved my life,” Ross tells this author in an interview for this essay, adding that she hasn’t touched a cigarette since her third day vaping.  

The passage of the Vape Mail Ban endangers countless folks who, like Ross, order their products online and receive them through home delivery services. To access her preferred vaping product, Ross would need to drive almost four hours to reach the nearest store that offers it. That leaves adults with the choice of using products that don’t work for them or returning to readily-available cigarettes.  

“Some vapers will return to combustible cigarettes,” Ross said, adding that “others will turn to the black market” in search of their product.  

While the legislation was given the name, “Preventing Online Sales of E-Cigarettes to Children Act” it punishes adults while sadly opening up new avenues for youth access. Ironically, criminals selling illegal devices and substances on the black market do not obey laws or follow mandated age verification requirements, likely increasing access for minors, which this legislation had intended to prevent. 

The impacts of this bill on public health cannot be overstated. The CDC has reported that cigarette smoking is responsible for the deaths of over 480,000 Americans each year. Additionally, smoking is linked to an increased risk of respiratory infections, and an additional increase in the severity of such infections.  

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and considering that coronavirus is a severe respiratory illness, many are baffled that our elected officials would enact such measures. American Vaping Association president Gregory Conley said, “The American people should start questioning why government is so intent on making it harder for adults to quit smoking.”

Lawmakers ought to reverse this policy to prevent detrimental health effects to American adults residing in rural areas.