Michael Siegel notes that the World Health Organization is urging countries to ban electronic cigarettes because they "undermine the denormalization of tobacco use." True, they do not contain tobacco, and using them does not involve inhaling any combustion products, so they are dramatically safer than conventional cigarettes. Still, they "are products resembling cigarettes," and that can't be good, right? Never mind that actual cigarettes would remain legal under the WHO's proposal. Siegel, a public health professor at Boston University who blogs about tobacco policy, underlines the utter obtuseness of this position:
The fact that vaping mimics smoking is precisely the reason why electronic cigarettes are such a promising strategy for smoking cessation….
What does the World Health Organization think that smokers who are using electronic cigarettes are going to do if these products are taken off the market? Quit smoking? Not likely. The truth is that if [e-cigarettes are] taken off the market, most ex-smokers who have quit by using electronic cigarettes are going to return to cigarette smoking….
The use of electronic cigarettes plays no role in normalizing smoking behavior. On the contrary, it helps many smokers get off of cigarettes and thus reduces smoking prevalence.
What the World Health Organization is saying is that electronic cigarette use is unacceptable because it "looks like" smoking. The WHO is willing to let this ideological obsession outweigh the tremendous potential for public health benefits and the saving of lives that electronic cigarettes offer….
The World Health Organization is telling countries that it is more important to discourage any behavior that looks like smoking than it is to save the lives of smokers. Better that smokers should die than that they should adopt a behavior that looks like smoking,
As I've said before, it is more than a little strange for anti-smoking and anti-tobacco groups to be mobilizing against a product that involves neither smoking nor tobacco, the use of which entails negligible health risks, especially when compared to the competition. This antipathy goes beyond their usual paternalistic collectivism, elevating form above substance and embracing a policy that is apt to increase tobacco-related disease rather than reducing it. It reminds me of the Drug Enforcement Administration's campaign against industrial hemp, which has involved not only opposing domestic cultivation but even trying to ban edible products made from nonpsychoactive hemp seed. Unlike marijuana, industrial hemp contains negligible amounts of THC, and many other countries where marijuana is banned nevertheless have legal hemp industries. For the DEA, it seems, the problem is that hemp looks like marijuana, even though you can't get high from it. The WHO and other e-cigarette opponents are indulging in the same sort of mindless symbolism.
More on e-cigarettes here.