I’ve been told off for vaping all over the place. In a rowdy beer-garden, on the train, even at a football match.
Recently I got a ticking off for smoking – a real cigarette on this occasion – by a mother on a public beach telling me that there were children nearby, and second-hand smoke kills.
Being English, I wasn’t quite ballsy enough to reply that it was her choice to have children, and to take them outside. Second-hand exposure to rowdy children has ruined many a good flight or day at the beach, but you don’t see anyone asking parents to put their children away.
Since the smoking ban, a ‘nursie knows best’ attitude has pervaded public health, and ultimately trickled down to civil society and businesses. These ‘New Puritans’ see sinners everywhere – whether smokers, drinkers, the obese, or, most recently, vapers – and view bans as a kneejerk response to any offending vices.
This attitude is plain to see in the pointless and inexplicable barring of e-cigarettes in so many public spaces. Despite negligible health risks from second-hand vapour, vaping is, by and large, being treated exactly like smoking was in 2007, with justifications based on a perceived threat of children taking up the habit – despite the overwhelming majority of vapers being current or ex-smokers, rather than first-time users of nicotine.
Using erroneous arguments like this betrays how little sensible evidence the anti-vapers have unearthed. Passive vaping is worlds apart from passive smoking, for the obvious reason that it obeys JS Mill’s harm principle: that you can do what you like unless it harms others. There is simply no good reason to object to somebody else vaping.
Of course, I defend the right of private companies to proscribe whatever they like on their own premises. But it’s nevertheless disheartening that the current approach seems to be one of ‘why not ban’, rather than ‘why ban’.
Far more worrying, however, is the genuine existential threat to e-cigarettes posed by some of the most recent regulations.
The EU’s revised Tobacco Products Directive, which Britain agreed to prior to the referendum, restricts the supply and manufacture of e-cigarettes, banning the strongest e-cigarettes and most advertising of the product.
And a proposed measure in Wales – which would have seen an outright ban on e-cigarettes in any enclosed spaces where you might find children (which covers pretty much everywhere) – only failed thanks to in-fighting between Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour.
One 80s example provides the perfect case study of the folly of public health officials trying to ‘reduce harm’. In 1988, the then Minister of Public Health Edwina Currie pushed through a ban on a Scandinavian oral tobacco product called Snus – an eccentric device resembling a small bag of tobacco leaves, placed under your upper lip.
Four years later, the EU followed suit and adopted the ban. Sweden, having negotiated an opt-out in the run-up to its referendum on joining the EU, was the only exception.
Today, through its widespread use of Snus, Sweden has by far the lowest smoking rate in Europe: 12% compared to the EU average of 26%. Major forms of cancer are far lower, with the lowest rates of disease correlating with the highest use of Snus. Governments in search of the best health outcomes should avoid such myopic decision-making.
E-cigarettes are the most effective gateway out of tobacco for our nation’s 9 million smokers, and are already saving millions of lives. Vapers shouldn’t be hounded – either by big government, or civil society.