Alberto Mingardi  

France to ban e-cigs

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E-cigarettes continue to be a burning issue. Vapers are still a new product, and therefore call for regulators' attention. The newest is that France is preparing to consider e-cigarettes tantamount to real ones. Apparently, a new bill is going to be presented in June that will make the treatment of e-cigs equal to that of traditional tobacco products.

The French will go for a ban, the Brits go for "self regulation". One of Scotland's biggest companies, "Standard Life", a financial service provider, prohibited employees from "vaping" at their desk back in 2012. More recently, others have apparently followed their lead.

Now, these are very different solutions to a similar question. I understand that behind the temptation to ban e-cigarettes there are two different problems. One is a precautionary principle concern with these products: how much do they damage individuals' health? If they are less dangerous than real tobacco, how could this "less" be quantified? The other is an issue related, so to say, with permissible habits. Smoking has something of a ritual: from lighting to puffing. The success of "vapers" is also based on the fact that, to be used, they required gestures that are somewhat similar. Can allowing surrogate smoking create confusion in large, densely populated working establishments?

On the first point, which is the most relevant, we should be aware that some 53 researchers and specialists have urged against stiffer regulation, arguing that "these products could be among the most significant health innovations of the 21st Century - perhaps saving hundreds of millions of lives".

Even if there isn't still conclusive evidence that governments can rely upon, why couldn't we just apply the precautionary principle to regulation for once? You shouldn't prohibit something that could "potentially save hundred of millions of lives" unless you can provide persuasive evidence the opposite is true.

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COMMENTS (5 to date)
Wes writes:

Banning them on grounds of safety is silly. Nicotine is mostly harmless and even has some nootropic effects (

The smoke is more like water vapor and does not hang in the air or have a smell. No issue there for smoking indoors.

However, one concern is that you can vaporize other things, like hash oil. I'm sure there are other less fragrant things you could vape as well.

More to consider: Do we want unhealthy people living longer thanks to e-cigs? I've read that smokers save us money by dying early and not using up socialized medical resources.

Eric writes:

Gov't also treats smokeless tobacco (chew) like cigarettes, even though the cancer risk is much lower. One of the few habits life/health insurance can price on is tobacco use, and no distinction is made. This is an odd equilibrium, and would think there's a big opportunity here for an insurance provider that could target the lower-risk smokeless tobacco users, though perhaps this would be difficult to monitor.

Someone from the other side writes:

I'd argue that they haven't yet figured out a good way to tax stuff people bay on Chinese websites. So they fear loss of revenues and use public health as cover.

Alex Schell writes:

Wes: a regulator who finds your budget point compelling will not only ban e-cigs, but also subsidize cigarettes or at least no longer tax them (and perhaps look for other clever ways to kill retirees). Unless, of course, they are not motivated by budgets but by a moral distaste for smokers.

Patri Friedman writes:

What Wes said. Given that basically all the negative health effects of smoking are from smoking, not nicotine, ecigs are basically neutral and actually mildly good for some health conditions (Alzheimer's, Parkinson) while mildly bad for others (high blood pressure).

Which makes banning them - particularly in countries that allow smoking - to be a dramatic example of how little regulation has to do with reality. It's almost as if the political world works through concentrated interests imposing their will on dispersed ones, benefitting the former and harming the latter, through the political process. Oh, wait....

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