by Carl V Phillips
I hate to be pessimistic. CASAA has done a truly amazing job fighting back cigarette-like taxes, smoking-like usage restrictions, and various administrative hurdles for e-cigarettes — to say nothing of out-and-out bans, in the USA (and not that is not self-praise: I participate in those efforts some, but it is really other people’s department). Stopping proposed full-on sales bans seems to have been a victory that will stick, but all of the others are only as good as the latest fight. Like so many bad policies, they keep getting proposed until they happen, at which point they are very difficult to reverse. Outside the USA, of course, the situation is on average worse, with bans in many jurisdictions (though relatively few punitive taxes — authorities have realized how hard they are to administer).
The problem is the extremely slippery slope from established restrictions and punitive taxes for cigarettes to similar regulations applied to low-risk alternatives. We have already seen it with punitive taxes applied to smokeless tobacco even though the justifications for such taxes for cigarettes (which are already themselves based on lies) do not extend to low-risk and zero-externality alternatives. Never mind that free societies adopted the restrictions on smoking only very reluctantly and slowly, recognizing the tension between freedom and the justifications for the restrictions (even among most who favor them). It should be a very tough decision, made reluctantly and only based on very good reasons, not a casual move. I have brought up this theme in my recent testimony.
But instead of it being about careful reasoning and good governance, it becomes a mere matter of “we did this for smoking, and therefore we should….” Obviously my observations about there being a slippery slope are not at all novel, and other commentators have focused a lot more on that theme than have I. The point here is that consumers of low-risk tobacco products should oppose restrictions and taxes that are imposed on smokers, if for no other reason than something in the order of half of those will eventually be imposed on them.
What brought this to mind was a mini flame war over Forest — the UK and Ireland smokers consumer advocacy group — being called by the press to comment on proposed restrictions on e-cigarettes. The reason for this is obvious: In the USA, we have an established THR consumer advocacy group, though no smokers consumer group of any note, whereas in the UK the opposite is true. So who else is the press going to call if they want a comment that is not from industry or the ANTZ?
It seems that e-cigarette users should be happy that there is someone in this niche, but a few are not. The negative comments that Forest reported getting (I assume it is just a handful from a few people, but I am not going to delve into the details because that spat is not the point of this post) represent a tone that can often be found among e-cigarette supporters. Many e-cigarette users — who, it should be noted, were almost all recently smokers — are as hostile toward smoking and smokers as the ANTZ. Even less explicably, some are also hostile toward smokeless tobacco, going so far as to attack CASAA for supporting this lowest-risk tobacco product category.
Those are very self-defeating attitudes.
The interests of smokers and smoke-free alternative users are about 95% aligned. It is about respect. It is about not using the power of the state to impose moral codes on people. It is about not criminalizing personal behavior, even if it is personally harmful. In other words, it is about truly believing in the philosophy of harm reduction, and not merely trying to support one’s personal interests, and others be damned.
And if not that, then it is just about understanding the reality of one’s self-interest, because a large portion of the restrictions on smoking is going to be applied to e-cigarettes for no reason other than the fact that they exist for smoking. Even more so, the widespread acceptance of punitive taxes on “OTPs” (other tobacco products, which include some smoked products, but also smokeless tobacco) paves the way for similar taxes on e-cigarettes. Indeed, probably the only reason punitive taxes on e-cigarettes are not already widespread is the difficulty in defining the products and the units for taxation.
Anyone who is serious about protecting the rights of low-risk product users should pay some attention to Forest’s strategy of pushing back against existing restrictions as a way to keep it from being even easier to implement new ones. Give them an inch and they will take a mile; let them have the miles they have already claimed without continuing to fight, and they will just grab the next mile. The same applies across product categories. Accept their brutal treatment of smokers, and they will pour vapers right down that slope with them.
Not that strategy and uniting promises anything, of course. The favorite American phrase, “united we stand, divided we fall” is invoked in our typical unexamined optimism to imply that if we work together we will succeed. But a variation on this phrase, and sometimes translation of original Greek, is the honor- and ethics-based “united we stand, together we fall”. That is, we may not succeed, but we should stand together nonetheless, not just because it improves the chances of not falling, but because it is the better thing to do.