Five myths about e-cigs

Russell McCarthy

Topics Politics

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Public-health naggers have waged war on e-cigs, but their arguments are founded on speculative nonsense. Here are the five most popular myths.

5) They’re bad for your health

The ‘we just don’t know the effects’ argument is very popular with public-health campaigners these days. They argue that, as e-cigarettes have only been on the market since 2007, we just don’t know the long-term damage they may be doing to people’s health. This is just a convenient way of getting around the fact that e-cigarettes are, by all conventional measures, harmless. E-cigarettes contain none of the tar or other toxins that make conventional cigarettes bad for one’s health. The smoke-like mist they emit contains nicotine, which in itself is relatively harmless, and propylene glycol, a chemical so safe it is used as a food preservative.

4) They’re a gateway drug to smoking

Vaping was banned in New York and Chicago late last year on the grounds that it can act as a ‘gateway’ to smoking. The available figures suggest the opposite – e-cigarettes are used almost entirely by smokers, usually to help them quit smoking or reduce the amount they smoke. A recent study commissioned by, of all organisations, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), found that the ‘use of electronic cigarettes among self-reported non-smokers is negligible (0.1 per cent) and only around one per cent of “never smokers” report ever trying electronic cigarettes’.

3) They normalise smoking

Last month, Welsh health minister Mark Drakeford said that the Welsh government would be banning e-cigs from public places because e-cigarettes ‘re-normalise’ smoking. What he meant by this is not entirely clear. Presumably, he believes that seeing people vaping will somehow make people want to smoke real cigarettes. Like the gateway argument, this idea seems to exist entirely in the imaginations of prohibitionists. It’s akin to claiming that vegetarian sausages ‘re-normalise’ meat-eating.

2) They undermine the smoking ban

Another nonsensical claim made by Drakeford is that vaping undermines the smoking ban. If this were true, it would be no bad thing. Unfortunately, the illiberal smoking bans currently in place in many countries show no sign of being undermined, let alone overturned. The idea that e-cigarettes could single-handedly bring down smoking bans is a fantasy. In fact, e-cigarettes, by providing a safer alternative to smoking, may achieve what the smoking ban failed to do: get a lot of people to stop smoking. The idea that this could be achieved by increasing people’s options, not limiting them, seems to fly in the face of a political class who have utter contempt for people’s personal autonomy.

1) That it’s anyone else’s business

Ultimately, even if the above four myths were all true, in a truly free society respect for human autonomy would trump all other concerns. Despite the various arguments for and against the banning and regulation of e-cigarettes, very few people are making the principled argument that what people choose to spend their money on and enjoy in their own time should be no one’s concern but their own.

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Topics Politics


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