Never having smoked cigarettes, I have always observed both smokers’ efforts to quit and government regulation of their behavior from a certain distance.
In both cases, however, my sympathies are with the smokers. Quitting is apparently easy for about 10 percent of smokers, who after deciding to quit simply put down a cigarette and never pick up another one.
But quitting appears far more difficult for most nicotine addicts, whose common joke is, “Quitting is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.”
With that in mind, government regulation of smokers has always seemed a two-pronged form of abuse. Not only do I feel sorry for smokers for being addicts, but they are so battered by the law’s harassments and scornful public attitudes that they become objects of double pity.
If cigarettes are deadly, and they certainly are, then why are they still legal while we instead target the people who use them?
They’ve been called “coffin nails” for a very long time, and the proof of the risks of tobacco’s carcinogens that was medically confirmed in the 1960s would seem to offer an ample case for a ban.
Part of the answer may be in the culture — the industry has a large, if regional, economic impact, and it has to be hard to outlaw something that people have been doing for centuries. But as the iron cage of the law around puffers draws tighter and tighter, a certain duplicity on the part of government becomes clearer and clearer.
Our lawmakers and bureaucrats, while joining public health officials in decrying smoking, continue to soak up the flow of cash that draconian cigarette taxes bring to the public fisc.
Meanwhile, hardly anyone discusses the moral aspects of keeping smoking legal so that our government can profit from permitting taxpayers to slowly kill themselves.
But I’m not proposing a ban. That would simply create a major black market in which cigarettes would become yet another illegal drug, and teenagers and other vulnerable groups probably would find them easier to get (and cheaper) than they are now.
However, banning may not be necessary for that. At a certain level of taxation, as happened in Canada, it will become profitable to smuggle in cigarettes and sell them illegally, with the same results.
In the meantime, our conflicted views of tobacco have produced a very odd, and also morally confusing, view of a relatively new technology designed to help smokers stay alive.
I’m referring to “vaping,” the use of battery-powered “electronic cigarettes” or “e-cigs” to deliver a vapor containing nicotine without all the carbon monoxide, tar and the many other carcinogens that cigarettes pump into smokers’ lungs.
The nicotine feeds the smokers’ addiction, which isn’t exactly optimal, but it does so at lower levels of concentration without running the risk of killing them, which would seem a social benefit. Wouldn’t it?
Not according to a bunch of modern scolds, mostly found on the political left, who have mounted a campaign both here and abroad to treat e-cigs the same as tobacco products. So, e-cigs have been banned in some countries, while numerous U.S. jurisdictions, including many major cities, are contemplating or implementing either restrictions or outright bans.
Which makes no sense. Forty million Americans smoke, and nearly 500,000 of them die from it every year. E-cigs deliver less nicotine than tobacco products and contain no other harmful ingredients, as the propylene glycol or vegetable glycol used to contain the drug have been approved by the FDA for human ingestion.
And the vapor exhaled by “vapers” isn’t harmful to others, unlike “second-hand smoke.”
True, the use of e-cigs may lead minors to smoke real cigarettes. But the solution to that is to ban them for the young, without depriving tens of millions of adult smokers of a device that could save their lives.
One darker suspicion is that officials are worried that if too many people find quitting easy, tobacco tax revenues (which are addictive to government) may decline.
Smoking also seems to have such a bad image in some people’s minds that they object even to a much safer alternative.
However, that is magical thinking, having nothing to do with science.
As columnist Andrew Stuttaford wrote in “Vaper Strain” on Dec. 26, “The campaign against tobacco began with the best of intentions, but it has long since degenerated into an instrument for its activists both to order others around and to display their own virtue.”
Therefore, he concluded, “With that comes an insistence on a rejection of tobacco so absolute, so pure, that it has become detached from any logic other than the logic of control, the classic hallmark of a cult.”
Why should we let such senseless opposition rob smokers of an effective way to control their habit, or even quit?
M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. Email at: [email protected]