— New e-cigarette law discourages smokers to quit and harms the environment —
In less than a month’s time, a law will come into effect which reduces public health and further damages the environment. It was passed by people who say they believe in promoting better public health and in protecting the environment. Yet this harmful law was wholly avoidable. It was supported by many health organisations and these same organisations are now softening the very arguments they used to encourage UK ministers and MEPs eager to appear to be doing something, even if that means doing almost anything, to push through the legislation. The UK’s implementation of the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) will come into force on 20 May. I previously wrote about this issue in 2014, here, but it seems right to return to it now. The law has taken over four years to get here, but will soon be upon us. Petitions against it failed. Legal challenges failed. The sound reasoning and good evidence provided by experts in the field failed. MPs and MEPs in general did not answer the genuine, concerned questions put to them, usually prefering, as they now so often do in this age of corporate-speak and obfuscation, to evade them. The media published only scare stories backed up with simplistic, highly selective versions of one side of the argument. Neither reason nor evidence has stopped it. And even though we are leaving the EU, repealing the law, or some aspects of it, may take years. That may never happen at all. And both public health and the environment will be worse than they could have been without the law, or with a far better one.
What’s the problem with the law?
The TPD has many aspects. Here are two which damage health and the environment:
1. Between a quarter and third of those who use e-cigarettes, or more accurately vaping devices, to give up smoking, require a strength of nicotine liquid above a certain level. It’s how their minds and bodies work, in relation to their nicotine addiction and their previous smoking behaviour. Very soon those people will no longer be allowed to buy the liquid they require. As responsible adults – with mortgages, careers, children – they’ve been using that strength for years. They want to help themselves. But soon won’t be allowed to.
2. Until now, nicotine liquid could be bought in bottles of any size. Most did so in a useful size, usually 30 ml. Small enough to pocket, but big enough to hold a useful amount. It may last you a week, or two, or longer, depending on how and what you vape. Others, such as myself, bought far larger bottles, and in a strength more than they needed – then carefully diluted it to the required strength. A quarter litre bottle would last perhaps six months. These will be banned. The maximum bottle size will be reduced. And not just to the very sensible 30 ml, but to a third of that. To little more than a thimble-full.
The law also enforces other things, but it’s these two which concern me, vapers in general, and those who know vaping inside out.
This all may not sound important, especially if you’ve never smoked, but it is. Along with other aspects of vaping, these two things lie at its very core, providing the means and materials to get as many as possible to switch from tobacco to vaping, and not go back, thereby saving lives and reducing illness.
Does it really matter to me?
On a personal level, one may decide to disregard all the benefits that vaping provides, to vapers, to the health service and to society. One could, for example, be purely self-regarding and settle on the easy thought that people should give up nicotine altogether, perhaps only because clouds of vapour are thought to look like smoke. Or one could believe the equally easy idea that vaping devices look ever so silly and ignore their advantages. Both these beliefs ignore the relevant facts about smoking, the nature of smoking addiction, its wider context in society and the benefits of vaping. We are all, quite naturally, entitled to our prejudices, and there is probably little that can be done to educate those who’ve already decided and who will never listen to reason.
Vaping is important. Although a vaper is still a nicotine user, they are no longer subject to the poisons of tobacco. Patches, inhalers, gum – all have a very low success rate. Check out any figures. The success rate for vaping is very impressive. Check out any figures. This fact likely accounts for why tens of millions across Europe, for example, are now vapers. They used to be smokers. In this world, where nicotine is highly addictive – not in an imaginary, ideal world where it’s as if everyone is not really addicted at all and can to give it up just as though they were giving up chocolate – in this very imperfect world, vaping is good. It should be encouraged among all those it would help. No obstacles, such as major aspects of this law, should be placed in their path.
Why does the damaging TPD exist?
For a number of reasons. Some claim that tobacco and pharmaceutical corporations – Big Tobacco and Big Pharma – had a hand in it. That may be correct, especially because part of the TPD requires expensive licenses for every product, separate ones, for example, for two products which are only very subtly different. Corporations love that. They can absorb the costs, while their competitors, the small businesses and designers who pioneered vaping, are punished by it. Many will disappear. But here I am only concerned with the thoughts and actions of politicians and lobbyists separate from any factors relating to those two other considerable influences on government. The motivations behind public health policy in the context of feeling the need for legislating over a matter that is relatively new and consequently is little understood by our representatives, is equally if not more important than those other aspects, Big Tobacco and Big Pharma.
Politicians, especially (disappointingly) those on the Left, are particularly obsessed with what is known as the ‘gateway effect’. It’s always on their lips. It’s claimed vaping could be a gateway to smoking, that non-smokers may move onto smoking via vaping. This has never been proven. In fact, research points in precisely the opposite direction, showing vaping cuts the number who smoke. But here’s the rub: the new law is in no way designed to combat this supposed ‘gateway effect’, even if it did exist. Neither liquid strength nor bottle size are relevant to the supposed ‘gateway effect’. Yet the gateway argument is constantly bandied about. It effectively acts as a bulwark for their position in general, even though there is no proof and nothing that could be done about it, even if true, short of an outright ban.
The overriding, professed reason for the law is, in short, ‘to protect the children’. It seems, in the world in which politicians, charities, NGOs and the health lobbyists live, children are desperate to get addicted, eager to fill their lungs with strange vapour, and carry hatchets with which to hack off the tops of child-safe bottles of nicotine liquid and down the lot in one gulp. The same children, strangely but conveniently, have no interest at all in the equally poisonous chemicals left under kitchen sinks, in garages and in garden sheds. In this same parallel world of politicians and their lunching partners, the Third Sector, all the people – the adults – who benefit from vaping and who are damaged by misguided legislation, are considered utterly irrelevant. Things are even worse for vapers because they do something which can appear to the non-vaper like smoking, and even though it isn’t smoking, like smoking it involves addiction. And addiction is of course very, very evil indeed, don’t you know, worse in fact than relentlessly destabilising sovereign states, creating a vacuum to be filled by gay-hating, head-chopping, women-abusing, religious fanatics. Because somewhere, apparently, there is a higher authority, though not of course a god – perish the thought – which demands that no one should be addicted, except to caffeine and to telling people what to do. Before this authority, to be good citizens, we are told we must prostrate ourselves.
Except we would not be good citizens, if we did so. We would be stupid ones.
What’s wrong with the law?
Reducing nicotine liquid strength is duplicitous. Poisons are still easily available, in bulk, to anyone and may therefore be abused. Legislating for lower strength liquid for vaping denies many the chance to vape, especially in the early stage where stronger liquids are required when giving up tobacco. With vaping, making it as easy as possible to vape rather than smoke is vital. The get-out of allowing stronger liquid on prescription is grossly inadequate. For how long would prescribed liquid be allowed? Do people know about this option? And a prescribed liquid is still open to abuse by anyone, including, if you like, children. Also, many moved to vaping because they suddenly found, in a shop or online store, a device and liquid which works for them. If they hadn’t, in those important initial stages, they would have stuck with cigarettes. Very few will book an appointment with their doctor. Lowering liquid strength will result in more people carrying on smoking, while before the ban they would have switched to vaping.
Related to this is bottle size, reduced to satisfy a fawning, but really very self-regarding, attitude to children. Here, again, other bulk poisons are freely available, protected by child-proof caps, which nicotine liquid bottles also have. And despite the law, anyone can buy any number of the new thimble-sized 10ml bottles. Most vapers will be buying twenty or thirty at one time, to last a month; many will empty them into a single bottle for ease of use. As with the issue of liquid strength, politicians have ignored the huge benefits of what they’ve banned and focused on the perceived negatives which the positives far outweigh. They claim, without sound reasoning about how the law achieves it, that they want to protect the children, but play fast and loose with the health of millions. They also claim to love nature and the environment, yet to produce three 10ml bottles instead of one 30ml is far more ruinous to our environment, expensive to produce and, for the consumer, dearer buy. Both manufacture and recycling are more environmentally damaging when producing many small bottles instead of fewer large ones. Hundreds of millions more plastic bottles will now be made than were necessary before this law.
It gets worse: those who buy liquid stronger than they need in order to dilute it, of which there are many, will be limited to relatively low strength liquid. So they will have to buy far more liquid than before to achieve their desired strength. More liquid means more containers, in this case literally hundreds of 10ml bottles while currently they buy just a single one, often a quarter litre size.
The bottom line here is that our politicians and those who influence them do not understand the fundamentals of that which they legislate on. The people who made this law have clearly demonstrated ineptitude and vanity.
Perhaps vapers in the UK should count their blessings, as best they can. In Australia, and also in the US with their impending draconian vaping laws, things look far worse. Yet in New Zealand they have started repealing some of their absurd anti-vaping laws. They’ve been forced to, in light of overwhelming evidence that their clamp-down was irresponsible. But, hey, let’s keep voting them in. Why not? After all, who cares about their cavalier approach to the health of millions or their double standards on the environment. After all, isn’t this all about the poor children?
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For those with the time and inclination to go into all the many aspects of this issue, I can do no better than recommend a blog by one of the most intellectually rigorous writers I know of. Despite his blog’s perhaps provocative title, his posts, though long, are brimming with honest and fair analysis. Nothing – no evasion, duplicity, pretence, or carefully hidden deception or self-deception, escapes his eagle eye – whatever the allegiance of those whose reports, studies and articles he examines. If other disciplines, such as philosophy and all the various social sciences met the same high standards and were as scrupulous as is Carl Phillips, then things would be far better. I particularly recommend it to academics, who are naturally involved in peer review, the methods and value of which his blog is not shy about passing judgment.
Here’s his blog: Anti-THR Lies and related topics
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