State and local level government efforts to ban electronic cigarette use in places where smoking is prohibited have been called “Nanny state” efforts. New York City and Chicago both just passes these kinds of provisions and other cities seem likely to do the same. Well New York and Chicago did it, they’ll say. Why don’t we?
There’s a few problems with this kind of legislation — and it isn’t simply that e-cigs don’t warrant this kind of action (though that too is the case). In addition to treating electronic cigarettes like they deserve severe regulations without the evidence to support the assertion, these efforts also assume regulators know what’s best in tobacco control. That’s a serious claim when even the FDA has yet to claim that they know what to do with e-cigs.
Smoking prohibitionists have taken to pushing the argument that no one knows what’s in electronic cigarettes. This is the argument politicians repeat countless times as evidence that controls need to be in place. The problem with this argument is that no other product on market is treated like it needs control just because we don’t know enough about it. What if every time a new v-neck sweater was introduced to the market we had to first determine that it didn’t restrict breathing in people wearing it? Sounds silly, but that’s basically what’s happening here.
Prohibitionists are making the “guilty until proven innocent” argument against e-cigs. According to the prohibitionist view, because they look like cigarettes, we must assume the worst and treat them accordingly. The other issue with this is that we do know a lot more about electronic cigarettes than our opponents would have us believe. In fact, we know more about them than we do the 10,000 to 100,000 constituents in conventional tobacco cigarette smoke.
Nanny state politics have long been detested — and have been a major factor in smoking legislation. While tobacco cigarettes have been a profoundly deadly product, many still believe it should be up to adults to decide what they do with their time and money. The excessive taxes levied against cigarettes are even viewed as a step too far as they financially harm smokers arguably more than they hurt the tobacco companies.
In the end, are these efforts designed to punish smokers or help them? Killing electronic cigarette markets isn’t going to help non-smokers continue not smoking. Instead, it will punish smokers that might have had a way out otherwise.
Similar to the debate over teen smoking, we have yet to find a silver bullet for smoking addiction. Excessive taxes, counter-marketing, age restrictions, and more all seem to help a little, but electronic cigarettes look like the first thing that could actually come along and replace cigarettes. They do this by offering much the same experience and effects with far less harm at a lower cost and (for now) more flexibility when it comes to use.
This is perhaps the first time ever that a product can out and out obsolete conventional cigarettes. Creating unnecessary legislation against these products just to feel like you’ve checked a box for “fight smoking this decade” isn’t helping anyone. Politicians may find soon enough that the public is not so easily convinced that e-cigs are such a bad thing.
To the community, vaping bans do look like nothing more than overreach for the sake of overreach. Without real evidence of harm, most politicians are relying on the arguments that there isn’t evidence that there isn’t harm. These might make for good city council level arguments, but they may find these provisions don’t hold up in the long term.