By any measure, people are far better off today than at any point in human history. The life expectancy of the average American has increased by almost a decade from the 1960’s to today. This increase, unprecedented in human history, has been mostly the result of one factor: innovation.
Many of the modern conveniences taken for granted were not available or affordable just 100 years ago. Staples of our lives such as air-conditioning, the refrigerator, and even the telephone were either non-existent or barely on the market. Although it’s hard to imagine life without the convenience of these products, they have also helped save lives.
Refrigerating food has led to fewer deaths from bacteria. Air conditioning has saved an estimated 3,000 lives annually in the United States alone between 1960 and 2004. The telephone and the cell phone have allowed for individuals to quickly reach emergency services. These innovations, which were intended to make our lives easier, have also undoubtedly saved lives.
New products aren’t the only innovations saving lives—improving existing products also improves our well-being. Automobiles today hardly resemble their predecessors 100 years ago. Features such as airbags, seatbelts, and antilock-brakes, standard on vehicles today, were not even conceived of during the time the Model T was popular. As a result of these improvements the number of fatal motor vehicles crash deaths has precipitously declined over the years. In 1975 there were 3.35 fatal accidents per 100 million miles driven, compared with just 1.08 accidents per 100 million miles in 2014. This number could move even lower with the introduction of driverless cars, which every major automobile manufacture is currently working on developing.
The Food and Drug Administration seems to have taken a different approach, choosing to over-regulate anything that isn’t 100 percent safe. Nowhere is this mindset clearer than FDA’s decision on how to regulate the e-cigarette and vaping industry.
The e-cigarette and vaping industry had been growing steadily since the introduction of their new round of products in late 2000’s, accounting in 2015 for $3 billion in revenue. Earlier this year, the FDA unveiled their new “deeming regulations” affecting both a large portion of the nicotine industry and also the e-cigarette and vaping industry. The new rules will ban 98.5 percent of the products currently on the market after a short grace period, affecting essentially any product invented after 2007. The FDA estimates that companies will spend almost $2.5 million dollars just to bring back their once-legal products on the market, a move that will certainly disproportionately hurt the smaller players in the industry.
Although this regulation will certainly have a damaging impact on small businesses, the potential negative impact on well-being is many times larger. No one would dispute that tobacco use, particularly cigarette smoking, can be deadly and certainly costly. Many users of traditional tobacco products have started using vaping products to reduce their use of cigarettes, for example.
This move may or may not turn out to be the correct one. Although the long term health effects of vaping are unknown, Britain’s Royal College of Physicians has suggested that vaping may provide a safer alternative to conventional cigarettes. But rather than allowing this new market to flourish and possibly realize the same kinds of groundbreaking advances that we’ve seen in other industries, the FDA would rather smother the industry with regulations that will lead to the death of 99 percent of these new and innovative products.
This regulation hasn’t stopped the tobacco industry from trying to improve its products. The newest innovation involves heating, but not burning, tobacco. This process still provides the nicotine smokers crave, but without many of the potential harms. Like e-cigarettes, these products may hold promise when it comes to alleviating some of the dangers associated with conventional smoking. These products are soon to go under FDA review. Hopefully, the agency will take a lighter regulatory approach than they did with the e-cigarette and vaping industry.
The FDA must rid themselves of the knee-jerk reaction to regulate first, even if it means suffocating new products and the entrepreneurial spirit that brought them to market. Instead, agencies should refrain from interfering with the kind of innovation that has improved people’s lives over the last century – and will do so again if regulators get out of the way. Let the innovators innovate.
Eric Peterson is a Senior Policy Analyst at Americans for Prosperity. You can follow his policy and sports musings at @IllinoisEric89
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