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blog post
politics

The free society and its enemies

— Electronic cigarettes, dogma and political irrationality —

It is now exactly one year since I had a cigarette, yet I’m still addicted to nicotine and use it daily.

Last year, in the midst of a bout of flu I switched to what are known as electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes. Most of them look nothing like cigarettes, and calling them such is I believe counter-productive in many ways.

However. I cannot sing the praises of e-cigarettes, or vaporisers as they are sometimes known, enough. They are brilliant. Hon Lik, who invented them, should be publicly recognised for his efforts. They can stop you smoking tobacco instantly without any pain, they are infinitely healthier, and you are no longer treated like a leper for simply smelling as everyone did in the 1960s, or actually much more recently than that. Your second-hand vapour is of no danger to others – although I do respect anywhere which decides not to allow their use on its premises. You are allowed to repeatedly vote for governments which kill hundreds of thousands, buy consumer goods made by desperate people treated as slaves, or pump your car fumes into the faces of toddlers in the high street; but tobacco? Forget it. These days, don’t even try. So e-cigarettes are the way forward. Hundreds of millions of people could instantly reduce the risk to their health. Millions already have.

photo of electronic cigarettes

Electronic ‘cigarettes’

I now see people smoking outside shops and pubs and feel like saying: you know, you really don’t need to do that anymore, you can be free of the health risks, the smell and the excommunication from society. But I haven’t, as yet, turned evangelical about it. I don’t need to. I’m enjoying it all to myself. Well, me and millions of others, who seem connected largely through internet forums.

True, I could have just given up nicotine altogether, couldn’t I? But I didn’t. I didn’t really want to. So I chose to use an electronic cigarette. After all, as the saying goes: we live in a free country.

Don’t we?

A free society

Since that last cigarette it so happens that a series of ‘consultations’ and votes have taken place in the EU, over whether e-cigarettes should be regulated, and if so how. I cannot, here, at least not briefly, enter into all the issues surrounding this. Suffice to say, there is a concerted effort by a considerable number of politicians, in the face of plain evidence provided by experts and those experienced in using e-cigarettes, to regulate them so heavily that they are of next to no use for those switching from tobacco cigarettes. The politicians who wish to effectively ban them have been forced to change tack now and again over the last year. They’ve had to. In two votes they didn’t get quite enough support. A lot of that was the result of users of e-cigarettes writing to their MEP. Much of the anti-e-cigarette MEP’s case rests on arguments such as e-cigarettes will be attractive to children, or even things like an electronic cigarette battery could explode. This is the level of rationality being offered by those claiming to be responsible representatives of the public. But they won’t give up. And if their initial proposal had been passed, and e-cigarettes had been regulated as they wished, first they would not have delivered enough nicotine to be an effective replacement for tobacco products, and second, only large tobacco and pharmaceutical companies would have had enough money to get licenses, destroying what exists today: a vibrant market of relatively small developers, importers and sellers.

That is plain madness.

And at European level it has been stated that whichever law is passed by the EU, individual states will still be able to unilaterally ban e-cigarettes. Which is most unusual for the EU. Very unusual. Member states normally have to abide by any ruling. Unless they have an individual policy opt-out. This is a blanket opt-out.

Quite simply, these people do not understand e-cigarettes. They are unsure if they are tobacco products. They are unsure if they are medicinal products. Does it matter? They say they are unregulated, yet the items that go to make up an e-cigarette are indeed regulated under existing trade and consumer laws. They have no understanding of why the wide range of e-cigarettes which are currently available is essential in getting people to switch. The first few tries of an e-cigarette are key in whether or not that person will carry on using them. So you need a wide range of available devices and liquids containing nicotine to choose from. It is vital. None of this is understood. That is clearly evident from the statements and position of the politicians bent on effectively banning them.

Bison

So why are they legislating against them? Why can’t they look at the evidence, analyse it rationally and then act? I simply cannot understand the mind of a person who refuses to take into account evidence and use that evidence honestly and for the health benefits of millions of people. Their websites are awash with unsupported statements of ‘fact’ warning against the dangers of current electronic cigarettes. Even the UK’s National Health Service, throwing caution to the wind, instruct their stop smoking advisers to discourage the use of electronic cigarettes. The fact that many millions of people could be easily saved from smoking-related disease really doesn’t matter to these people. Nicotine addiction is extremely difficult to free oneself from. So e-cigarettes, rather than being dishonestly demonised, should be promoted and encouraged among existing smokers. There are an estimated 1.3 million users of electronic cigarettes in the UK alone. That’s 1.3 million fewer people smoking. They are popular in France and immensely popular in Germany. In America too they’ve boomed, as you can imagine, where you may as well defecate on the pavement instead of smoking: you’ll likely invoke less anger, so intense is the hatred of tobacco in the States.

photo of three bison

Some UK politicians on holiday last year

I like some things the EU does and dislike others. I believe it’s a hard nut to crack, although you wouldn’t think so from those eager for anything and everything with the badge of the EU slapped on it. Yet reading the e-cigarette forums when the EU ministers were voting on the various proposals, I was struck by the actions of one purportedly open and listening UK party who, out of all parties, should, by tradition, consider the health of the public a priority. On this issue and others, and clearly under the thumb of their party whip, they grouped together like bison, heads facing out in full defensive position, ignoring letters and advice from concerned individuals, people highly knowledgable about e-cigarettes and their benefit to society. Their answers in the few interviews they granted never addressed the point put to them. They clearly have their dogma and were sticking to it and no discussion needed, thanks very much. Yet this is a deeply serious issue concerning the public’s health and the future of who profits from the sale of electronic cigarettes. It’s not something to be played with by cowboys parading as public representatives.

As I write this, storms and floods bedevil the UK. There are a number of reasons for the flooding, but one of them is that houses were built on flood plains, yet meanwhile the Environment Agency stopped dredging the rivers which now more easily overflow. So perhaps I should not be at all surprised by the e-cigarette issue, by the irrationality of those we vote into office, election after election, like obedient sheep. Perhaps I should simply assume that the sensible thing to do will largely be ignored, dogma adhered to whatever the cost, and the most stupid, inept policy be adopted.

 

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Copyright © 2014 David Hansard / davidhansard.wordpress.com
All articles on davidhansard.wordpress.com are written by David Hansard unless otherwise stated.

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