In North Dakota voters passed a statewide smoking ban that, unbeknownst to a lot of those voters I believe, included a ban on e-cigarettes. Now the City of Moorhead in Minnesota is considering treating e-cigarettes like regular cigarettes.
Why is this happening? E-cigarettes are not, after all, like regular cigarettes. There is nothing getting burned. There is no tobacco. While e-cigarettes may not be good for you, it’s pretty safe to say that they’re nowhere near as bad for you as regular cigarettes. So when people switch from traditional tobacco products to e-cigarettes, they’re moving toward a healthier sort of habit.
And you don’t have to take my word for it. The American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society agree that that e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative to regular smoking:
The American Heart Association’s first policy statement on electronic cigarettes backs them as a last resort to help smokers quit. The American Cancer Society has no formal policy but quietly took a similar stance in May.
Both groups express great concern about these popular nicotine-vapor products and urge more regulation, especially to keep them away from youth. They also stress that proven smoking cessation methods should always be tried first.
But if those fail, “it is reasonable to have a conversation” about e-cigarettes, said the Heart Association’s president, Dr. Elliott Antman. The Cancer Society said e-cigarettes “may be a reasonable option” for people who could not quit after trying counseling and approved methods, such as nicotine patches.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, to be sure, and it would be nice if everyone lived perfectly healthy lifestyles free from bad habits like overeating and smoking. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Some people like to smoke, and in a free society we allow adults to make those sort of decisions for themselves.
So, given that reality, isn’t it a good thing that a relatively healthy alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes like e-cigarettes exists on the market?
I am fond of referring to anti-tobacco activists as zealots, and I think the move against e-cigarettes by the anti-tobacco activists is evidence of that zealotry. If they were truly concerned about public health they would welcome “vaping” (as the use of e-cigarettes is called) as a way to move our society away from traditional tobacco.
But their hubristic crusade is about controlling people’s behavior. These extremists, who go about their advocacy with all the subtlety of modern day Carrie Nations only swinging bureaucracy instead of hatchets, would forgo a healthier society in their quest to force us all to meet their exacting standards of healthy.
Not only is that an affront to the notion of individual liberty, but it’s not really workable as public policy. As Ms. Nation and her fellow travelers in the temperance movement learned.