Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Sometimes it Takes a Novelist to Articulate the Most Insightful Perspective: Lionel Shriver on Electronic Cigarettes

In an op-ed piece published in The Guardian this Saturday, novelist Lionel Shriver expresses better than I have ever seen the stupidity of the anti-smoking groups' opposition to electronic cigarettes and articulates the underlying ideological reasons for this opposition.

Shriver writes: "With e-cigs, it seems you haven't "really quit", even if you've really quit tobacco, the very substance that sheepish smokers yearn to eschew. In desperation, rabid anti-smokers deride e-cigs as stupid-looking and pathetic. Apparently we're in danger of "renormalising smoking" after having lavished endless initiatives on making smoking socially unacceptable among all but a sad, quivering few."

"Nonsense. If electronic cigarettes became a socially acceptable norm, lung cancer and emphysema rates would plummet. The trouble is that smokers have been demonised medically and morally: not merely bad for public health, but bad, full stop. E-cigs neatly separate the rational, research-backed concern for the health consequences of tobacco from a purely cultural revulsion for a "filthy" habit marking you as evil."

"For anti-smoking fanatics, e-cigs must be enraging. They can't clamber on to that handsome high horse, because what's to get upset about? Those plastic vapour sticks aren't gunking anyone's lungs or even stinking up the drapes. And those dreadful cheats seem to be enjoying themselves! They're getting away with something horrid scot-free! It isn't fair! They should get cancer! Imagine the dizzy swoon of indignation deprivation: what's upsetting is there's nothing to get upset about." ...

"You want real evil? What's truly evil is attempting to deny people addicted to a profoundly damaging substance the opportunity to transfer that addiction to a product most medical professionals rate as 99% harmless. The gathering European opposition to electronic cigarettes is the result of kneejerk cultural prejudice, puritanical vindictiveness, corporate collusion, and the unconscionable greed of tax authorities that won't be able to heap the same punitive, confiscatory, opportunistic duties on a product that doesn't hurt anyone."

The Rest of the Story

For once, I have very little to add because Shriver has said it so well and so insightfully. I would only emphasize three points:

1. Shriver is quite correct that among anti-smoking circles, switching from tobacco cigarettes to electronic cigarettes is not considered quitting smoking. Apparently, it is not the health effects of smoking which distinguish the behavior, but the hand motions.

2. The widespread concern among anti-smoking groups that the use of electronic cigarettes will normalize smoking is inane. What it actually normalizes is smoking cessation. And it de-normalizes cancer and lung disease.

3. As I have written extensively, it is indeed "evil" (that is, contrary to the protection of the public's health) to deny smokers the availability of a product that can help them save their lives. I have termed this "public health malpractice."

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