Sharpe to the Point: Smoke & Math

Jim SharpeOctober 24, 2019
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MATH, in general, confuses me. Perplexed² isn’t a strong enough description of what numbers do to me.

But the math being used to justify the further regulation of (and what I believe to be the ultimate goal of banning) vaping would leave a team of mathematicians led by Einstein, Archimedes and Hawking glassy-eyed. And one Valley city’s politicians seem especially addled by addition.

Goodyear ain’t even close to good at the math thing. As discombobulated as calculations leave me, Goodyear’s city council can’t even grasp plus and minus signs – concepts I mastered in first grade. (It was algebra that took me out.)

Last month, Goodyear’s council passed an ordinance that banned the sale of nicotine vaping and traditional tobacco products in the city to people under the age of 21. And they arrived at their decision using a math problem: AxB = Political Decision. They took (A) a developing societal annoyance toward people who vape; and multiplied it by (B) a seemingly rising number of vaping illnesses and deaths, and the media frenzy that followed.

We could address 18 < 21 and have a robust discussion about the age one is considered an adult and able to decide for themselves whether they’ll use addictive substances like nicotine. But, instead, I want to focus on much larger numbers. Like 480,000. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), that’s the number of people who die every year in the U.S. from smoking-related illnesses. The CDC estimates that 20 percent of all deaths in the U.S. are a result of smoking, and that smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.

Meanwhile, so far this year, the number of people in the U.S. who are believed to have died as a result of vaping is… drumroll please! 13.

Not 13,000. Not even 1,300. Just 13.

Some of the nation’s more reactionary media outlets have reported that 800 Americans have gotten sick through vaping this year. That stat is true, but the CDC says almost all of the people who got sick weren’t vaping nicotine. They were vaping tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psycho-active substance in pot, and the toxic additives used in concert with it.

Making 21 the age to buy vaping products seems like a sensible way to keep kids from becoming nicotine-addicted through the latest hipster habit. But Goodyear’s new ordinance also makes it harder for some of the 480,000 people who could die next year to quit cigarettes. And it may lead adults (18-, 19- and 20-year-olds) to buy black-market vape products.

But what really gives me a jaundiced eye about Goodyear’s new law is the part that also changed the purchase age for much, much deadlier cigarettes. Did it take vaping hysteria to tackle cigs? Really?!

Even though I studied something called political science, politics is not based in science. And, sadly, logic and math rarely have a place in political decisions. But just in case Goodyear cares, 480,000 – 13 = 479,987.

Jim Sharpe is the host of Arizona’s Morning News on KTAR-FM 92.3 (weekdays 5-9 a.m.). Visit to find more information about his on-air work.

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