United we stand, because most restrictions on cigarettes will eventually apply to e-cigarettes

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.

19 responses to “United we stand, because most restrictions on cigarettes will eventually apply to e-cigarettes

  1. By all means, continue to argue and bicker. We will divide and conquer smokers and vapers, we will continue to de-normalise all of you, and we will succeed unless you fight back. But most smokers and vapers won’t fight back because you’re afraid to do so, or you want others to do the fighting for you. This is how we will destroy all of you. So please keep fighting amongst yourselves — it makes our job of eradicating all of you so much easier, foolish addicts.

    Yours truly,

  2. We need to remember that fighting for a peoples right to chose a low risk product doesn’t mean restricting the high risk product or peoples right to chose it.
    However this is politics and you can be damned by association. Having Forest defend ecigs puts ecigs in the same bracket as cigarettes in peoples minds, as would having a vaping org defending smokers rights. We lost the battle on smoking long ago and we will lose the thr battle if we don’t put clear ground between smoking and smoke free products.
    This is unfortunate as it gives the antz a divide and conquer head start but the damage is done. We need to deal with the situation as it is.
    ANTZ won’t thank you or give ground because you are anti smoking and smokers will see you as an antz. Stick to your own cause.

    • Carl V Phillips

      I am getting kind of mixed messages from that. ANTZ won’t give ground because you are anti-smoking — yes, that is one reason why doing the right thing and supporting the true harm reduction philosophy is not really a sacrifice. If throwing smokers under the bus was actually helpful, then there would be a tension between ethics and expedience, but it is not.

      On the other hand, “stick to your own cause” suggests the narrow view that fails to recognize that it is all the same cause. Yes some smokers will still see you as the enemy (not properly as “ANTZ”, though, which refers to those who oppose all tobacco product use), but their narrow-mindedness is no reason to make them right, just as Forest stands up for e-cigarettes despite being attacked by some vapers as the enemy.

      The ship has long-since sailed on e-cigarettes being associated with cigarettes in the mind of everyone other than a few activists vapers. Indeed, there was never any chance of avoiding that association from the start. They are associated in most every way imaginable (population, drug content, physical characteristics, social niche, biological effects, politics — to say nothing of the fact that they exist because of smoking). It is pure fantasy to think otherwise.

      Please attend to the “even if…” statements in the post.

    • “This is unfortunate as it gives the antz a divide and conquer head start”

      Hate to say it, but some vapers are encouraging that head start, as are some smokers. It’s incredibly depressing (and self-defeating) stuff.

      On the politics point, as Carl says, this is exactly what the ANTZ are playing on. Also as Carl says, using tobacco as a shield only helps those ranged against e-cigs, the point being made should be the powerful one of freedom of choice.

      This comment by Carl is very well drawn.

      “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”

      But now they are into overdrive, and by implicitly accepting that those restrictions were fine and should be forgotten, vaping advocates are effectively endorsing the abandonment of freedom and proper proof of harm as a basis for legislation.

    • Tom, your reasoning here does not follow. If indeed the battle is lost on smoking, should we now not give up all personal liberty and choice for the greater good of the “public”. Why even post a complaint, when your battle is so obviously lost? And what is this “clear ground” you speak of?

  3. Who let that troll in here, anyway?
    And you are absolutely correct, Carl!

  4. Very well analysed and stated Carl!


  5. This is good one, “The Anti-Tobacco Alliance” are a group of electronic cigarette users out of Washington State who are fighting the bill that would tax electronic cigarettes.


    One day hiding in the corner having a smoke, the next day a raving anti-tobacco zealot.

  6. I was going to comment in a similar vein to Tom Gleeson. I can see how vapers, having made the decision to change over to ecigs, would wish to see vaping as completely different from smoking tobacco. And they are right. I can understand their frustration, having ‘done the right thing’, in being treated to the same sort of bans and the same sort of taxation regime as are smokers.
    As a smoker, I sympathise fully with ex-smokers who have chosen to vape. That is their decision. I have written to MEPs as suggested to defend vaping. But I don’t particularly feel the need for vapers to come to the aid of smokers in any specific way. They need to hold on to the ‘high moral ground’ for all they are worth.
    Having said that, vapers should still be aware that SHS danger is a myth and was deliberately, and expertly, exploited to initiate smoking bans. Ecig bans do not have even the semblance of a reasonable justification – none at all. I hope I speak for other smokers when I say that I support ecig users all the way.

  7. I guess you had to be there to understand what that spat was about. I wasn’t really a part of it but watched from the sidelines. As Matt Gluggles said at the time, Simon Clark (Forest) is a brilliant advocate but overplays hostility towards smokers from vapers. Yes I’m sure there are a few but they a few and far between. The last time he was whining about lack of support against restrictions on smokers from vapers it was pointed out to him that Dave Dorn, one of the most prominent vapers in the UK, had gone on the radio to speak out against the UK ban on smoking in cars with kids. Against a veritable shit storm of public opinion it has to be said. Unfortunately Simon fails to acknowledge that, or the many other pro smoker comments made by the vapers he claims to be monitoring. It is also worth noting that on a rough count approximately 30% of his Twitter followers are in fact vapers.

    Personally I appreciate his support which has been unwavering but, wish the media would go to vapers for these articles. Of course until such time as we have our own advocacy group this is unlikely to happen. In the meantime I wish he would stop shit stirring on Twitter when he’s bored.

  8. Sometimes I feel like I am banging my head against a wall. The wall isn’t getting any softer either. And here is where I disagree with Junican (sorry I do love Bolton Smoker’s Club btw,it’s a daily read.),people make choices.That’s life but choosing to not speak up,to not say anything when the enemy is the same when the fight is the same is morally wrong.It’s also a cop out.If we don’t draw a line in the sand NOW when do we draw that line?

    I think many vapers are either ignorant of the truth about the tobacco control industry or they believe that they are in the right and can convince them to change. I hate to break it to them but the people who were going to change already have and the hardcase anti tobacco loons are going to take the same hard line against us as they did when we smoked.

    For the loons there is no truth,no peace,no mercy there is just hate and lies. And when they are done with people who vape they will just pick up and move on to the next group of people they’re going to destroy.
    And that’s a hard truth to force people to swallow. Most won’t believe it because instead of ascribing inhumane traits to these people we believe they are the same as us,motivated by truth and science,justice and health. I for one don’t believe that’s true.
    When the choice is truth or money these greedy people will always choose money.

    If nothing else we should be banding together and demanding the truth about the industry funding and the industry itself.
    I have no good answers about how you convince people to do the right thing but the right thing should come naturally to us.

    “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  9. Thanks for speaking the truth Carl! Much respect to you:-)

  10. I can almost understand the shock and dismay of the vapers who believed everything they were told (about smokers being filthy inconsiderate addicts, emitting foul odors and selfishly killing Others) and who did what they were told (quit smoking for their health and definitely For The Kids) only to have their new-found virtue still classified as vice by The Classifying Class, and find they’re still labeled as filthy addicts (emitting something that LOOKS like something that emits foul odors and kills Others) and therefore have to be kept from public view. That this would happen to vapers was obvious to anyone aware of the underlying premise of what camouflages itself as “public health,” but they’re learning the hard way getting hung for a sheep instead of for a goat still means you’re getting hanged.

  11. Carl has made the mistake of reading just one side of the coin and then believing that he is fully informed on the situation.

    Twigolets comment above, is right.

    .Whilst forest supporters were complaining about the “burden” of representing vapers, and the continued (false) assertion that vaping campaigners are somehow anti-smoking – they got told they were wrong on both counts.

    …Then Carl reported HALF of it.


    • Carl V Phillips

      I seem to recall that I did really not try to report any side of it, but rather cited someone’s observation as a motivating trigger and explicitly said that I was not going to try to research it. I then went on to observe that the behavior that was mentioned is something I have observed, and thus was reporting my own observations and not relying one someone else’s assessment.

      Of course it is true that many vapers are in no way anti-smoker/anti-smoking, that many are true believers in the harm reduction ethic, and that others recognize their self interests even if they are not true believers. Witness the supportive comments for the blog. But those supportive comments also mean suggest I am not the only one who believes that is not true of everyone, or else the comments would say “you are arguing with phantoms” (or at least that is what I would say). And regardless of comments, you surely must have shared my observations that there is a lot of that antagonism and self-defeating narrowness out there. It shows up even in relatively disciplined forums like CASAA’s members Facebook chat page, and gets worse in wilder settings.

      I did not see Forest as making a claim any stronger than mine, that a lot (not necessarily most, but enough to be very noticeable) of vapers are anti-smoker, even though people like Forest are actively pro-vaper. I did not see them as denying that that some of the rather nastier and less reputable pro-smoking commentators are anti-THR, which I can also tell you from experience is true (I recall one of them recently calling for the deaths of pro-ecig activists, a few of whom are anti-smoker, but including on the list some of us who are very much not).

      • I see antismoking THR advocates as a being a small but vocal minority of the present-day vaping community. I also see it as being largely made up from two subgroups, both of which were larger portions of the vaping community five years ago than they are today. Those two groups are:

        1) The e-cig entrepreneurs advertising to smokers that they should consider switching to e-cigs … usually to their one particular brand of e-cigs that they are pushing in the spam-ads they post to newsgroups — one-liners irrelevant to the content of the stories they post to and which usually just feature a message like, “I used to be a stink-butt smoker and wake up coughing every morning and then I discovered Super-Health-E-Cigs which deliver only the purest God-Given-Essence-Of-Life and have made me a happy ‘n healthy child-friendly human being again!”


        2) Smokers who were bludgeoned into years of attempts at quitting despite actually still enjoying smoking enough that those attempts never succeeded… no matter how much nicotine they threw into their systems through gums and patches because they believed the “Evil Nicotine Addiction” model of antismoking propaganda. All those unsuccessful attempts, often accompanied by scarfing down pitcher after pitcher of antismoking propaganda in an attempt to support those attempts, left an almost indelible scar of deep negative feelings toward smoking. When those smokers suddenly discovered that they could enjoy vaping without most of the negatives connected with smoking they felt like they had been “saved” and wanted to go out and proselytize. It was inevitable that as part of that proselytizing they’d carry over the strong antismoking feelings they’d cultivated within themselves through years of failed quitting attempts.

        Those two groups made up a LARGE portion of public contact from the vaping community five years ago and left a LOT of Free Choice advocate smokers with the feeling that vapers in general were largely antismoking. But the vaping community today is dominated by a new element: smokers who weren’t strongly involved in efforts to quit smoking, but who simply tried vaping out of curiosity or because they saw it as an adjunct to smoking in situations where smoking was not allowed or because they simply heard of it as a “healthier alternative” and decided to give it a try. Those who came to vaping via those three avenues do NOT tend to be antismoking and are more likely to be willing to support general Free Choice advocacy efforts for both vaping AND for smoking. And I believe that they are, today, representative of the true majority of vapers out there who recognize that their real enemy is most certainly not smokers… but antismokers.

        I myself was surprised at this change in the vaping community when I accepted an interview invitation at VP Live with Jan and Kevin. I showed up there expecting some degree of support but also expecting a lot of hostility. I was quite surprised to find virtually NO hostility. Even the 20 to 30 folks in the chat room were pretty much universally supportive! I think it’s an enjoyable interview if you want to listen for a while as you’re doing your surfing and emailing! :) See: https://soundcloud.com/vp-live/an-interview-with-michael-j

        – MJM

  12. There is also an aspect of political necessity to some of it: An ecig advocate who says that SHS dangers are hugely exaggerated (even though this is true) is likely to be largely ignored as a tobacco lobbyist. The same is true of many of the tobacco related fallacies that are entrenched as ‘common knowledge’.

    It could also be argued that divide and conquer works both ways – freedom to use nicotine recreationally is finally gaining some traction in public health circles, which would have been unthinkable until very recently!

    • Carl V Phillips

      There is a big difference between being committed to supporting related ethical (and pragmatic) causes that are not merely one’s own personal cause and trying to argue every point all the time. Take a close look at the testimony I write. It does not concede that ETS junk science is right even while pointing out that vapor is entirely different from ETS. But it most certainly does not concede that ETS is measurably harmful. The naive readers who think ETS is harmful will see what they want, but sophisticated readers will see that I am not actually saying that ETS is killing people.

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