Electronic cigarettes, also dubbed as e-cigarettes, have become more prevalent among smokers in the past five years, so much that this group has become a substantial minority.
Switching from regular cigarettes is prompted by varied reasons, from attempting to quit smoking to choosing an allegedly healthier alternative. A statistic from 2013 reported that roughly 600,000 Australian smokers had used e-cigarettes at least once, while the number of e-cigarette users has risen to approximately 2.6 million in Great Britain.
These electronic devices produce a vapor containing nicotine and propylene glycol that is not toxic to passive participants. Most importantly, e-cigarettes don’t use tobacco, as the inhaled vegetable glycerine that is inhaled delivers nicotine to the lungs.
The e-cigarette industry advertises this product as having much lower levels of carcinogens and toxins, decreasing the harmful effect of traditional cigarettes with 95 percent. However, Australia has been regulating this industry’s activity by banning the sale of e-cigarettes containing nicotine.
Even though nicotine can still be imported as an ingredient for vaporizers based on medical prescriptions, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians is working on banning this form of nicotine traffic as well.
Banning e-cigarettes is unethical
Some opponents of the recent ban on e-cigarettes argue the law is unethical, claiming the government is interfering with the adult smoker’s right of using an alternative form of nicotine that is less harmful for one’s health.
It is inconsistent to ban the less harmful e-cigarettes, while tobacco cigarettes, which are evidently the most harmful, are freely sold across the country. At the same, smokers who want to quit smoking or reduce the unhealthy risks of this habit are being put at a disadvantage by this ban.
Following the ban, market analysts have noticed a significant increase in the black market of nicotine. Moreover, completely prohibiting e-cigarettes has prevented any sensible regulation that would have reduced risks to consumers, including teenagers, the most targeted demographic.
Supporters of the ban argue that it prevents e-cigarettes from becoming the trend that renormalizes smoking by displaying a public behavior resembling smoking. They add it offers no leeway for tobacco companies (some of which also own e-cigarettes brands) to advertise e-cigarettes to adolescents and young adults.
Articles covering the Australian ban often fall in two extremes, both of which have direct disadvantages: either a government bans the product, or they allow them to exist on the market completely unregulated, as is currently the case now in the United States and United Kingdom.
There’s a better option
However, nobody seems to want to talk about the middle and ethically acceptable policy option of allowing e-cigarettes to exist on the shelves, while tight regulation are set in place to minimize harmful scenarios.
This approach would not deny adults their option for a healthier alternative, but they could only by approved e-cigarette products from a limited number of licensed outlets. Users’ safety could be ensured by common consumer laws, such as selling nicotine in child-proof recipients and using appropriate and explicit labeling.
Implementing this middle-way approach would also imply complete transparency about the use of e-cigarettes; so far, no extensive study was conducted to definitely prove e-cigarettes have a healthier effect on the smoker on the long term when compared to cigarette smoking.
Instead of banning these devices, governments should encourage researchers to study the uptake and use of e-cigarettes, which is vital to inform policy. Statistics could prompt updated regulations, depending on the results of these studies: how many smokers eventually quit after using e-cigarettes, how many ceased all nicotine use, and what are the medium-term health effects of using e-cigarettes alone.
Regulating e-cigarette sales is a proper way of respecting smoker autonomy and gets rid of the unfairness of banning them while tobacco cigarettes can be freely accessed. At the same time, it would offer the opportunity to create a safer consumer environment, while monitoring the advertisement of these products.
In the case that critics would be right and such a policy proves to be a disappointment, regulators could reverse it. However, if most smokers would be attracted to e-cigarettes as a way of quitting, as their advocates claim, then regulations could go the other way, and become more relaxed.
Image Source: France24