Alberto Mingardi  

The European Union versus the e-cig

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In December last year we discussed the new European directive on tobacco products. It has been approved, and includes, as Andy Coghlan reports on the New Scientist, "strict conditions on how e-cigarettes can be formulated, advertised and sold".
Now, if you read the European Commission's press release, everything has been taken care of, for the better: consumers will be better protected, and every possible step to benefit them has been taken. Seriously, the press release is well worth reading: such a self-complimentary document, if published under the trademark of a business, would be deemed as propaganda by consumer advocates, lobbyists, et cetera.
There is, however, some matters of contention, mostly related (besides the application TO e-cigs OF the same rules on advertising that apply to other tobacco production) to the concentration of nicotine (which will be limited to 20 milligrams per millilitre of propylene glyco). In another article, Mr Coghlan reported of a letter from fifteen scientists that warned against "excessive regulation" of e-cigarettes that may indirectly perpetuate "the existing levels of smoking related disease, death and health care costs".
I find this issue most fascinating. Governments, as we know, oppose smoking vehemently. An alternative to smoking, which may appeal to a number of smokers, suddenly emerged. What does government do? It opposes it, too.
Jacob Sullum on Reason has an excellent summary of the anti-vaping arguments that are emerging within the anti-smoking movement. One is that e-cigs will lure teenagers into smoking. The other is that vaping "will discourage smokers from quitting by giving them a way to get their nicotine fix when they can't light up".
I wonder if somebody is able to provide any kind of evidence, for these I'd say rather counterintuitive claims.


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
Tim Worstall writes:

The guy who follows all of this is Chris Snowden at the IEA. Not just e-cigs and vaping but the whole public health charade.

His blog is here:

http://velvetgloveironfist.blogspot.pt/

Thoroughly recommended.

Chad R. writes:

Link to the press release has an errant ")" at the end of the url. If you just delete the parenthesis from the end of the address, you can get around the 404 error that pops up.

http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-14-134_en.htm

[Fixed. Thanks, Chad!--Econlib Ed.]

Pierre H writes:

My partner has tried many times over the years to quit smoking. She's tried the regular nicotine replacement products such as the patch and nicotine gum, to no effect. She used pharmaceutical aids, which gave her intense suicidal ideation, and propelled her into a months long depression. She's tried cold turkey. None of these has worked for long or been very satisfactory at all.

Then I started reading about people successfully using e-cigarettes to reduce or quit smoking. Looking into it, e-cigarettes certainly seemed to be safer than cigarettes in general, even if there hasn't been much research done on them. So I mentioned them to her. She did the legwork to find out how to get e-cigarettes with nicotine in Canada (they exist in a grey area here. Technically the nicotine liquids aren't approved, and so should not be allowed to be sold, but Health Canada isn't cracking down particularly hard, so the liquids are sold quite readily online.) And, for 18 months, she hasn't smoked a single cigarette.

So yes, she's still using nicotine, and she's vaping regularly, and I don't know that she has any plans to cut down the nicotine and stop vaping, but so what? She's happier, richer (e-cigarettes are a *lot* cheaper than cigarettes,) and, if the preliminary results on e-cigarettes vs cigarettes hold, healthier long-term.

Pierre

Andrew_FL writes:

To paraphrase Eric Cartman, it's like smoking brings a lot of people a little bit of joy, and they want to take that away from them.

triclops41 writes:

The arguments from the left about e-cigs are identical to those of conservatives who want abstinence only sex ed.

1 acknowledging reality is the same as condoning it.

2 a safer alternative to a bad thing is bad because it might partially shield actors from the bad consequences.

The Left, a bastion of reason

The Right, superstitious fools

A more parsimonious theory would be that the Left's antipathy toward smoking is based more on emotional disgust and out-group disdain than on reasoned public health logic.

MingoV writes:

One reason that nicotine patch users go back to cigarettes is that a steady, low blood concentration of nicotine does not provide the same kick as a spike in nicotine concentration. E-cigarettes fix that problem. I suspect than many smokers who switch to E-cigs will use them for years, but so what?

The argument against E-cigs is the same as the argument against giving methadone to heroin addicts. Methadone supporters won that argument. E-cig supporters in Europe did not.

Mico writes:

It's indeed baffling. Almost as if the goal is to prevent smoking in and of itself, rather than to mitigate health problems resulting from it. A clean replacement would not only fail to help achieve this goal, but possibly remove any chance of ever achieving it.

Jon writes:

Is the goal is to collect taxes from addicts under moral cover?

Tom West writes:

Given that so few facts about both the costs and the benefits of e-cig's are known, we're pretty much left to argue from base ideology rather than facts.

We really have no idea how many young people will take up e-cig's who would not have taken up cigarettes, how many people will save themselves serious health difficulties by switching to e-cig's from cigarettes, what are the long term health consequences of vaping, etc., etc.

Given the unknown, the argument is reduced to the protective principle (ban unless you know the effects are positive) or the freedom principle (ban only if you know the effects are dire).

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