“65% Favor Federal Regulation of E-Cigarettes,” trumpets a new headline from Rasmussen. Unfortunately, the poll question behind this finding is incredibly poorly worded.
Here’s what they asked: “Should electronic cigarettes be regulated by the federal government the same way traditional cigarettes are?” The problem is that “the same way” means something highly unconventional in this context, and most of the people who answered the question probably had no idea.
As I noted in an article earlier this month, in 2009 Congress authorized the FDA to regulate tobacco products. Importantly, though, it grandfathered all the products on the market as of February 15, 2007—a time when virtually no e-cigarettes, but plenty of traditional cigarettes, were being sold. New products have to go through an approval process that can be incredibly expensive.
Now that the FDA has decided to bring e-cigarettes under its authority, it will regulate them “the same way” as real cigarettes in only a very limited sense: The same cutoff date will apply to both. In practice, this basically means the FDA will regulate e-cigarettes, but not real cigarettes. Which isn’t really “the same” at all.
What does the public think of this setup? I have no idea, and this poll doesn’t shed any light on the question.
Robert VerBruggen is managing editor of The American Conservative. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen