This is the continuation of a process that began with the 1868 Pharmacy Act (UK) and the 1915 Harrison Narcotics Tax Act (US) which restricted the sale of opium to chemists and doctors, after lobbying from the Pharmaceutical Society and the American Medical Association respectively. By 1920, the medical establishment had brought all narcotics under its authority on both sides of the Atlantic and paved the way for the war on drugs. In America this extended to alcohol, with doctors able to prescribe medicinal liquor during Prohibition (a privilege they greatly abused). British medics have never seized control of the drinks industry, but the MHRA ruling will give them authority over the other remaining outpost of chemically induced pleasure – nicotine.
This is an audacious move with profound implications for the years ahead. The conventional mass-produced cigarette is arguably a relic of the nineteenth century which will be gradually rendered obsolete by twenty-first century technology. Recreational nicotine use in a few years time will look radically different to that of the cigarette era. It is reasonable to expect e-cigarette technology to improve significantly if a competitive market is allowed to flourish. It is also likely that other safe, or vastly safer, nicotine products will emerge to compete with them.
All this could be jeopardised if the authoritarian and moralistic public health lobby becomes the judge, jury and executioner of the recreational nicotine industry. Their instinctive asceticism takes little account of the desire for pleasure that motivates nicotine users and their obsession with legislation and top-down behavioural control is irreconcilable with the spirit of free enterprise that created these revolutionary products in the first place.
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