Thursday 16 December 2010

E-cigarettes banned because they are 'confusing'

Kings County, in Washington State, has banned the use of the e-cigarette in public places because it "threatens to undermine the social norming impact [of smoking bans]" and because e-cigarettes "cause confusion". This is an intriguing and dangerous development in 'tobacco control' since there is no evidence that e-cigarettes pose a health risk to the user, let alone to those around them.

I put the words 'tobacco control' in scare quotes because while this is undoubtedly a matter of control, it is no longer a genuine tobacco issue, let alone a smoking issue. Just as the anti-smoking movement became an anti-tobacco movement, so the anti-tobacco movement has become an anti-nicotine movement. When you have people campaigning against a product because it looks like a cigarette, it is difficult to sustain the delusion that we are not in the grips of scientifically illiterate, hysterical and—above all—moral crusade.

The Board of Health states that because e-cigarettes resemble cigarettes, they might cause "confusion and concern [to] the owners of those establishments who seek to comply with the Smoking in Public Places Regulations." Apparently, the possibility of causing confusion is now a legitimate reason for making an activity illegal in the United States of America.

The Health Board overstates the similarities between e-cigarettes and their combustible cousins. E-cigarette vapour dissipates within seconds. They leave no smell. Many of them are multi-coloured and look about as much like a cigarette as a pencil does. Above all, they don't cause cancer, but that doesn't deter those who want to ban e-cigarettes entirely from promoting a campaign that will lead to e-cig users returning to the real health hazard they had successfully given up.

Like all new products, e-cigarettes are bound to attract curious glances at first but this will disappear once people are familiar with them. Maybe some people will react with confusion and concern, but—and this is the real point—so what?

Ladyboys cause confusion and concern. Kerry Katona causes confusion and concern. My tax returns cause confusion and concern. It's not the government's business to protect sentient beings from confusion and concern. If the state must take a role in the e-cigarette issue it should be to quell the confusion through honest information and alleviate the concern with facts. And the facts are that e-cigarettes are, at worst, 99% safer than cigarettes, they create no secondhand smoke and they seem to be a damn fine substitute for smoking.

The idea that the government has to act to uphold "social norms" is particularly sinister. Quite simply, it is not for the government to decide what is normal and what is abnormal. Civil society decides what is normal and the concept of normality varies from person to person and community to community. And so it should.

A system that allows different people to plough their own furrow has been working just fine for years, thanks. And even if we did require a one-size-fits-all benchmark for normality, it is unlikely that we would turn to the inherently freakish collection of politicians and single-issue campaigners to provide it. You uphold your social norms and I'll uphold mine. K?

(For you early risers, I'll be making a similar point but less well and with more hesitation on BBC Radio 4's Today programme tomorrow. Or not, depending on what hits the cutting room floor.)


Malenfant said...

Presumably they'll be banning the NICORETTE® Inhalator ( as it looks like a ciggie. Anyone any idea how the Inhalator ingredients compare with the e-cig? They might be deadly and we would never know if they've not been tested.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Best of luck on R4!

Anonymous said...

That'll get rid of those ladyboys!

Information please said...

At what bloody time?

Christopher Snowdon said...

It was a pre-record. I don't know what time the item's on. One for the iPlayer I reckon.

Dr. Brian Oblivion said...

King County. We only have one king out this way -- Burger King. ;-)

These presumably liberal Democrats have proven themselves to be illiberal prats. Sadly it's unlikely they will be thrown out en mass, although I'd flush the lot.

Smokers have been robbed, now the budget is being slashed too due to a major shortfall.

Here's a cute one from Seattle (also in King County) back in Feb 2010:

Seattle parks chief relaxes smoking ban to a 25-foot rule

He wrote the memo before going skiing, Potter said.

In his memo, Gallagher gave this explanation for a total ban on smoking:

"As an agency that has a fundamental mission to support the health and well-being of Seattle residents, it is appropriate and beneficial to prohibit the use of tobacco products at parks and park facilities."

After a day of public furor, Gallagher backed off.

Ha ha ha. The same script everywhere. I don't know if smokers wear bubbles or carry tape measures though.

Dr. Brian Oblivion said...

Also in the article he sings the usual song about the poor chiiiildren who are so fragile that they could well melt upon seeing an adult + ciggy (e or otherwise).

So sick of the same obvious lies again and again.

Angry Exile said...

" ... threatens to undermine the social norming impact [of smoking bans]"

Wow. Just, wow. They going to ban Ferraris because they undermine speed limits? Astonishing.

Anonymous said...

This comment below the original newspaper report is pertinent.

I'm going to buy a 3/8" wood dowel, cut it into 3.5" lengths and paint it white/orange with a little red on the end. While it won't emit smoke or vapor, I can probably imitate smoking with it in a bar. Then we'll see how long it takes to ban w-cigarettes (wood cigarettes). Just my little contribution to civil disobedience.

A Government considering banning ecigs should bear this in mind. What would the response be to people sitting in pubs holding fake cigarettes made out of wood? When does an object begin to resemble a cigarette?

Anonymous said...

Chris, was your piece broadcast and, if so, what time in?

Angry Exile said...

Anon, that's genius. I'm going down the hardware store this weekend.

Christopher Snowdon said...


The whole e-cigarette item got cut. There's a chance it might be on tomorrow. If so, I'll let you know.


Anonymous said...

"...the anti-tobacco movement has become an anti-nicotine movement."

or rather anti-non-pharma-delivered-nicotine movement.


MP said...

So is there a group protesting this? Where do I go to help? Any links?


The Devil's Thadvocate said...

Ironically, since this is a ban on so-called "electronic smoking devices" it would not apply to butane-powered vaporizers which are functionally closer to smoking than battery-powered atomizers like e-cigs.

The penalty for violating this regulation includes a possible fine of up to $100/day for businesses who do not enforce this policy. Unfortunately for these private property owners, there is no practical way to enforce a ban on smoke-free tobacco products that can be used discretely like e-cigarettes.

Apparently the King County Board of Health thinks it is more important to uphold a negative perception of smokers than to give them a reason to choose a smoke-free alternative. Fortunately, they are so uninformed on this issue that they have passed a "Blue Law" with no hope of enforcing it.

Mark the X Smoker said...

Some very good points discussed especially with the w-cigarettes. Even now, an increasing number of cities and states have also started banning the use of ecigs in public places. This is something that I really don't understand. Is it really because the higher officials don't want to tolerate the impression that smoking is a normal or desirable thing? Any thoughts?

Kind Regars,

Unknown said...

Hmmm. I just bought my joye 510 and it felt good to think that I am living a healthier life today. And now, banning its use? You're right, it is confusing. Would the people who made this ordinance also ban if we switch to smoking sisha?