I do not smoke. I have never smoked. No one close to me has ever died as a result of smoking. My mother smoked for most of my childhood, but she quit around the time I started college, and has been smoke free for nearly 20 years (congrats mom!). She quit with a friend. He had been ordered by the doctor to quit, and was not so lucky. He died in 2007 after suffering from cancer for years. He was a lifelong smoker. I’m so thankful he dragged my mom to those meetings.
I tell you all of that because I want to make it clear, I really don’t have a strong bias driven by personal experience when it comes to smoking and cancer, but I have seen what they can do, and have thought about the “what-ifs” when it comes to my mom. In the last year or so I have become obsessed with stories about attempts (and successes) to ban e-Cigarettes. Recently I read a fantastic article originally posted in Forbes (which I read at reason.com) by Jacob Sullum called Save E-Cigarettes From the Children. It’s pretty short, so I recommend checking it out. It’s one of many such articles I’ve read in recent months (due to my obsession), but for some reason it prompted me to finally write about the subject after months on hiatus from the blog. It occurred to me there are probably two major reasons for my eCigs obsession despite the lack of a real reason for the emotional attachment to the subject matter.
Banning or significantly restricting e-Cigarettes
- Literally might kill people, and
- Epitomizes one reason why rushing to enact laws is scary – the reasoning is often based on flawed interpretations of (or no) science and/or evidence, or bald faced lies.
Sullum’s article nicely and succinctly highlights the evidence (taken from the same report several Senators are using to persuade the FDA to regulate e-Cigs) showing the strong correlation between increased use of e-Cigarettes and decreased use of tobacco-based (traditional) cigarettes as well as the lack of evidence for e-Cigs being a “gateway” drug to using tobacco. And most (almost statistically all) e-Cigarette smokers were traditional cigarette smokers first.
Here’s what we do know. Cigarette smoking definitively increases the risk of causing cancer. If you want to know some truly terrifying stats and what it does to your body, there is a deluge of evidence on the web. I’d start with the CDC which tells us that one in five deaths per year is caused from smoking related illnesses.
ONE IN FIVE…
That is a staggering statistic. That is more than the total deaths per year caused by HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, car crashes, and guns COMBINED.
It is not the nicotine in cigarettes that is primarily harmful. Addictive, yes. The harm is in the carcinogens. You may not want to know this either… campfires produce up to 30 times as many carcinogens as cigarette smoke. Campfires are deadly. I’m not joking. More than 4 million people worldwide die because they heat their homes and cook with solid fuels (usually wood, but also dung and coal). Essentially, 4 million people worldwide die from campfires. Why aren’t we banning them as well? The reason I suspect is that in the West, where we can cook food and heat our homes without polluting the air, our sense of reference is out of whack. We often don’t realize how amazing our lives are in the West.
And perception is a bad tool for legislation. E-Cigarettes look like “real” cigarettes and campfires are nice for cooking smores therefore e-Cigs are bad and campfires are lovely. In other words, there is no logical reason for banning one and allowing another, and any reasons given are completely anti-scientific, or ignorant. If politicians and their supporters really want to save people’s lives, they should first ban all campfires, then cigarettes, and then cars, cleaning solutions, choking hazards, rat poison, all the things on this list of ridiculous things that have killed people, and water*. These are all things that are dangerous in certain quantities or situations (to name a tiny few). Yes, I said water. Drinking too much water can kill you. It’s called hyponatremia.
However, only one item on the list of things I mentioned kills about 400,000 Americans each year. You guessed it (I hope)… its cigarette smoking. If e-Cigarettes remotely have a chance in taking a chunk out of that total, and the only reason for banning them is that they may appeal to kids (who often smoke themselves before trying e-Cigs), or they “look like smoking,” then any attempt to ban or restrict them is morally decrepit and willfully ignorant in my opinion. Absent any strong evidence that they present a danger (to kids or adults) that puts them anywhere near balancing out the lives they could save by helping to end smoking, they need to be allowed, and allowed anywhere (although I would support a private business owner’s right to restrict them even though I’d think that business owner is dumb).
Finally, something has come along that can literally save thousands if not tens to hundreds of thousands of people’s lives. That is not hyperbole. If politicians and their supporters actually cared about saving lives above scoring popularity points or appearing like they’re “doing something for the kids”, the world would be a better place. I may be but one tiny insignificant vote, but any politician at any level for any party who supports any measure to limit or ban these life saving devices will not have my vote, nor my respect (not that they’d probably care about the latter).
As a person pro-not-killing people, and who is anti-bad-reasoning-used-to-restrict-liberty-or-pretty-much-make-any-decision, I suspect this subject will continue to be high on my list of stuff to watch for years to come. Its a shame I have to bother.
*No, I do not really want to ban these things… obviously that would pretty much violate my Classical Liberal values. And it would be absurd. But I’m sure some people want to ban many of them.