Stone the crows! Turn that cigarette off!

Smokers of all sorts are finding new ways to defy the people who know what’s good for us by taking up e-cigarettes. The Australian Association of Smoking Cessation Professionals defines these faux fags as “battery operated devices that create a mist for inhalation which usually contains nicotine. E-cigarette use (‘vaping’) mimics the behavioural and sensory aspects of smoking and simulates a ‘smoking’ experience.” [i]

Given e-cigarettes are not easily available in Australia, it is hard to gauge sales. But in the US demand is said to be 1.7 per cent of the $100bn market for nicotine products. [ii] Not enormous but enough to give the consumption constables, the people who police what we injest, the screaming meemies. The general argument is that e-cigarettes are unhealthy, used by tobacco companies to lure people into conventional smoking and target the young. It’s enough to convince the NSW state government, which promised in February to ban selling e-gaspers plus fruit flavoured vaporisers (ye Gods, mango smoke!) to minors. [iii]

This gets more airplay than the counter-claims that vaping is a way-better means of getting a nicotine hit and helps people trying to give up smoking.[iv]

There is certainly plenty of evidence that inhaling vapour, nicotine laced or otherwise, is really, really bad. The American heart, lung and cancer societies all back a bill in California to ban outdoor vaping on the grounds it is addictive and includes carcinogens.[v] And in 2012, the World Medical Association declared vaping guilty until proven innocent: “Lack of product testing does not permit the conclusion that e-cigarettes do not produce any harmful products even if they produce fewer dangerous substances than conventional cigarettes.” [vi]

But it seems the science isn’t settled. In a statement all but ignored by the media last week, the National Health and Medical Research Council urged caution until there is more evidence but certainly did not denounce vaping as the worse thing since Winnie Blues. For a start, “There is some preliminary evidence that supports the view” that vaping is better for smokers than tobacco. And as for the argument that vaping leads to smoking, “evidence of this is limited”. [vii]

The Crows have no clue on the medicine but they do note that plenty of people see vaping as dissident behaviour which should be stamped out.

There are two social arguments against e-cigarettes. One is that they “normalise” smoking. As Ross McKenzie from Macquarie University writes, “If not regulated as traditional cigarettes, the promotion of e-cigarettes has the very real potential to re-normalise smoking, undoing decades of progress in tobacco control, which has led to declining smoking prevalence in many countries.”[viii]

Or as veteran columnist Rex Jory puts it; “Could it be that e-cigarettes are a new, if insidious, way for the tobacco industry to sell its murderous product?” [ix]

The second is that vaping is a new indulgence and as such should be banned on the general principle that consumption for pleasure is morally bad, expressed by Clive Hamilton as the disease of affluenza: “The Western world is in the grip of a consumption binge that is unique in human history. We aspire to the lifestyles of the rich and famous at the cost of family, friends and personal fulfilment. Rates of stress, depression and obesity are up as we wrestle with the emptiness and endless disappointments of the consumer life.” [x]

Similarly in the UK the Advertising Standards Authority banned a Trapped Vortex Combustor (TVC) for vaping because it had “a sultry and glamorous tone” and heavens we could never sell e-cigarettes on the basis of un-sound self-image [xi] In essence, people would not want to vape if they were leading green lean lifestyles and knew what was good for them.

The cover for this sort of argument across everything from eating meat to smoking is generally the environmental movement’s “precautionary principle”, which UNESCO defines as:

When human activities may lead to morally unacceptable harm that is scientifically plausible but uncertain, actions shall be taken to avoid or diminish that harm. Morally unacceptable harm refers to harm to humans or the environment that is, threatening to human life or health, or serious and effectively irreversible, or inequitable to present or future generations, or imposed without adequate consideration of the human rights of those affected.[xii]

As Ethan Epstein describes the US experience, “Three decades of increasingly punitive anti-smoking regulations have made American smokers a pariah class. Smoking has been thoroughly de-normalized and wholly stigmatized. Smokers are no longer viewed as doing something merely stupid or self-destructive; smoking, to many, is now morally wrong.”[xiii]

The debate over vaping should not be about this – as Dr Rob Borland from the Cancer Council of Victoria points out, if e-cigarettes turn out to be medically safe, and satisfying for those addicted to nicotine or presumably who just like to smoke they could a complete alternative to smoking tobacco. “If these products can be made good enough… we can effectively ban cigarettes and the vast majority of cigarette smokers will transfer across to these products.” [xiv]

But banning vaping looks much more likely. It’s a good thing hamburgers are already on the market – otherwise there would be a push to ban them as well, in the best interests of all of us who eat them without realising the health-risk of course.

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[i] Australian Association of Smoking Cessation Professionals, “E-cigarette information sheet,” April 2014 @ recovered on March 29

[ii] Duane Standford, “E-cig sales slide as regular smokers return to real thing,” Bloomberg Business July 2014 @ recovered on March 29

[iii] Kirsty Needham, “Baird Government to ban e-cigarette sales to children – 70 per cent found to contain no nicotine.” Sydney Morning Herald, February 8

[iv] Konstantinos Farsalinos, et “Characteristics, perceived side effects and benefits of electronic cigarette use: a worldwide survey of more than 19000 consumers,” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 11 4 (2014)

[v] “Proposed California bill would ban e-cigarettes in public places,” RT (Online) February 2 2015 via recovered on March 30

[vi] World Medical Association, “WMA Statement on Electronic Cigarettes and Other Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems,” October 2012, World Medical Journal, 58, 5/6 (November) 2012, 185-186

[vii] National Health and Medical Research Council, “CEO Statement: electronic cigarettes, March 2015 @ recovered on March 30

[viii] Ross Mackenzie “Viewpoint: should Australia lift its ban on e-cigarettes,” The Conversation August 27 @ recovered on March 30

[ix] Rex Jory, “Could e-cigarettes be an insidious way for the tobacco industry to sell its murderous product,” The Advertiser March 16

[x] Clive Hamilton, Affluenza: when too much is never enough recovered on March 30

[xi] Russell Parsons, “E-cigarette ad banned for ‘glamorising tobacco,” Marketing Week, December 24 2014

[xii] World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology, The Precautionary Principle (2005) @ recovered on March 29

[xiii] Ethan Epstein. “Thank you for not vaping,” The Weekly Standard, 18 (44) August 5 2013

[xiv] ABC Health and Wellbeing, “Why the jury is still out on e-cigarettes,” August 18 2014 @ recovered on March 19