July 31, 2013
Innovative technology is a wonderful thing. It allows us to improve on past practices, making everything from mobile phones to chemical disinfectants safer and better, so that individuals can progressively enjoy a better quality of life. Such is the case with the recent innovations in nicotine products that have made the world a much safer place for smokers and people who want to enjoy certain pleasures in life.
Two technological breakthroughs for smokers are taking our breath away (literally) and reshaping an industry practically overnight. E-cigarettes allow smokers to simulate the habit of smoking, receive the needed nicotine dose (which can be controlled and reduced) while only ingesting a relatively harmless vapour (hence called “vaping”). A second innovation involves heating the tobacco instead of burning it (a product like the Ploom), allowing smokers to receive the flavour and nicotine without the dangerous tar and other toxins released at higher temperatures. This is good news, not only for smokers who want to quit or reduce their risks, but also for others who no longer have to suffer the reported risks of second-hand smoke. A recent University of East London study that had surveyed 1400 e-cigarette users to find that 74% of smokers managed to quit smoking (86% reported not smoking tobacco over the past several weeks or months with overall significant reductions in smoking) after switching to e-cigarettes.
Surely everyone should be very happy about these new, safe technological innovations that are saving lives and restoring public health.
Of course not! Researchers give interviews with “shocking revelations“. Anti-lobbying lobbyists like Corporate Europe Observatory condemn industry for giving MEPs free samples of e-cigarettes (how dare they share information that we don’t agree with). The WHO has come out against e-cigarettes with anecdotal arguments like the fact that tobacco companies are buying e-cigarette firms. Warnings against e-cigarettes have been issued by the US FDA and the The American Lung Association. E-cigarettes are currently banned in the well-recognised nanny states of Canada, Singapore and Australia. France is in the process of banning e-cigarettes. Local governments (like the US State of New Jersey) are urgently implementing new laws to ban vaping in public (see a report on recent regulatory actions against e-cigarettes).
From past experience, the Risk-Monger knows that this type of activist legislation against benign developments doesn’t just happen. There is some serious, and seriously unethical, lobbying going on with people passionately driven by personal agendas. This cannot simply be the pharma industry worried about the loss of sales from anti-smoking products presently marketed (although bashing big pharma seems to be the flavour of the month). Although blogs and comment files are full of testimonials of grateful ex-smokers who have been able to quit smoking with the help of e-cigarettes, I see a trend of health gurus (those leading the “denormalisation of smoking” drives) teaming up with ex-smokers who lead or volunteer at local anti-smoking organisations to campaign against the threat of nicotine addiction.
And these gurus have made a good choice. Ex-smokers are perhaps the most righteous and intolerant species to have ever inhabited this planet. They will think nothing of telling complete strangers enjoying a smoke break how great they are to have quit the habit (implying how weak the poor, unsuspecting stranger is for not being able to!). They view smokers as an evil scourge on society (look how Hollywood portrays villains today) that should not be allowed to enjoy their habit or be seen in public. That people should be able to enjoy the benefits of nicotine and not have to suffer horrendous consequences is not acceptable for this bitter extremist element of our population. But how much are ex-smokers being used by anti-tobacco lobbyists?
Anti-smoking health gurus are actively spinning doubt about the safety of e-cigarettes, demanding controls and expressing dismay about how these companies are trying to use this technology to get more people hooked on smoking. Anecdotes on dangerous substances from China, environmental pollution from spent batteries (I’m not kidding – apparently they are worried that people will want to stamp out their e-cigs!), threats of overdosing on nicotine and other risks that we just don’t know about. Central to the argument, and this was actually cited by the WHO, it that this will undermine the successful drive to denormalise smoking. We need to ban cigarettes, they argue, not make it safer (ALARA v Precaution again). The idea that e-cigarettes could be legislated as pharmaceutical products is just unacceptable.
Then there are the anti-technologists. Something man-made to address a health or environmental problem cannot be trusted. And as it comes from industry (worse, now it seems, Big Tobacco), all the more we must be suspicious. Facts? Evidence for their suspicions? None needed. This can’t be good and we don’t need it! End of discussion. Once again, the WHO is guilty of this sin of commonality.
“But Risk-Monger, wait, nicotine is what causes our addiction to cigarettes and we can’t permit the promotion of addictive substances.”
OK, but sugar and caffeine are also addictive (with much greater negative consequences), and I can think of a hundred good reasons to ban those substances first (except that, like many others, I like them!). No one, not even your doctor, is prepared to admit that medicinal nicotine is safe and in no way carcinogenic. This though, is a fact (but one not worth sharing since no one wants to hear it).
This is a rich issue for risk aficionados. Not everything is easy. Child-friendly e-cigarette flavourings have created unease, as have the types of marketing campaigns (although regulations treating e-cigarettes as a pharmaceutical product are finally coming into force). Will vaping make smoking cool again among young people? Regulators need to act to control these risks, but not try to ban e-cigarettes under a twisted ideal of precaution and deny people the positive benefits this technology can provide. Banning e-cigarettes would not be scientific, but rather vindictive (not to mention becoming a major public health fail).
Should we allow smokers back in from the cold, to vape in public, in bars and at their desks (surely not on airplanes, as they use electronic devices)? Should we accept that they can feed their addiction without negative consequences? Should they be allowed to enjoy themselves without the guilt of being socially ostracised? Should we let tobacco companies market these products as cool and safe? Absolutely not – we are stuck in a perception that is not going to go away anytime soon! Too much has been invested in relentless vilification by those who know better and are stronger lobbyists.
The Risk-Monger is enjoying this episode in cold-hearted vindictiveness by a population that feels they have a right to speak on behalf of others. Share the love!
Disclaimer: The Risk-Monger does not smoke, never has, and has no interest in vaping.