Health v. Morality: E-Cigarettes

Christine Whelan | Posted on 03/16/10

at the same time as the tobacco companies are marketing a dangerous product to young women, there are other young women who are fighting against what seems to be a much safer substitute: e-cigarettes.

If Joe the Camel cigarette ads were geared toward the guys, Camel's new ads are targeted straight at teenaged girls, say anti-smoking activists. I mean, they're pink, for heaven's sake. And a clear play on Chanel's perfume. Camel No 9 Ad1

So that's bad. But what seems even crazier to me is that, at the same time as the tobacco companies are marketing a dangerous product to young women, there are other young women who are fighting against what seems to be a much safer substitute: e-cigarettes.

Mara Zrzavy, a 16-year-old high-school student joined with other activists to encourage New Hampshire to ban the use of e-cigarettes by minors. Her argument is that kids who wouldn't otherwise smoke will start with e-cigs, because they are cool gadgets, and then move on to the real thing when they get hooked.

Camel No 9 Ad2Don't get me wrong. Kids shouldn't be smoking anything. And we don't want to encourage kids who would otherwise not smoke to start. (Although they are: Check out this study about how preteens are more likely to abuse household products as drugs than anything else.) But since we know that kids like to are going to do at least try it anyway, let's be realistic:

Shouldn't we crack down on the things we know cause cancer? And be open to some safer alternatives?

Since 2006, e-cigarettes, electronic nicotine delivery devices that contain no tobacco and emit no smoke, have been available in the United States. While they look like real thing, e-cigarettes use a metal tube with a battery to heat the nicotine cartridge, and then people inhale water vapor that packs the same punch as smoking a cigarette - but without the negative health effects of inhaling smoke.

E-cigs were launched as way to help folks quit smoking. Really, it's the same as wearing a nicotine patch, plus the bonus of being able to pretend you're actually smoking. And since a big part of the habit is the oral fixation of something to do with your hands and lips at a bar, in conversation, at a tense moment, e-cigs are a brilliant alternative.

While all the tests aren't in yet, scientists are pretty sure that smoking an e-cigarette is a lot better for you than smoking the old-fashioned kind. It's the burning and inhaling of tobacco smoke that's linked with lung cancer and a myriad of other diseases, not the nicotine itself. But it's the nicotine that gives you the buzz, the short-lived high, the burst of energy.

Yet, for some reason, e-cigarettes aren't catching on. Indeed, in some states, they are being vilified. And this is where the morality question comes in. Because if it's not the health effects we're concerned about, it's something else. Getting high? The act of smoking in and of itself? Hmmm...

If health were our only concern, then e-cigarettes would be encouraged as the go-to option for any smoker. The reason they aren't being embraced nationwide is two-fold:

  1. We think getting a buzz for pleasure is morally wrong. It's our Puritan heritage, perhaps.
  2. We think that smoking is disgusting and a sign of moral weakness, and shouldn't be tolerated in any form.

I'm a bit more sympathetic to this second argument, but it's flawed as well because, really, if there aren't health effects, why should we care?

Kids shouldn't be smoking anything. But if Camel cigarettes are getting pretty in pink, I'd really like to see some other attractive, free-market alternatives.

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