One of the common critiques leveled against the e-cig and vape community (and an ethical issue I had to consider before getting involved in the industry) was the possibility of such devices facilitating addiction. There’s definitely a chance they might because nicotine is undeniably addictive and cannabis can be psychologically addictive. However, determining whether such businesses are ethical requires an understanding of the complexities of addiction and discernment of differences between types of addictions.
Part of the reason why the war on drugs has been a failure is because it assumes the problem of drug addiction can and should be eradicated by making certain substances illegal and incarcerating drug users and dealers. Advocates of Harm Reduction, on the other hand, accepts that drug use and addictive behavior are a part of human existence, encompass a wide continuum of behavior patterns, and that harmful effects can be minimized through non-punitive, non-coercive intervention and policies.
While nicotine in e-liquid vapor may be addictive, it isn’t nearly as addictive as tobacco cigarettes because of additional additives such as ammonia that Big Tobacco manufacturers add to tobacco to increase the potency of its psychoactive effect. E-liquid vapor is also less damaging and irritating than smoke from tobacco cigarettes and gives users more control over how much nicotine they use, thus providing a greater opportunity to break the habit completely if or when they choose to.
Cannabis smoke and vapor has also been proven to be less harmful than tobacco smoke, and though it’s not physically addicting, excessive use increases tolerance and can normalize the psychoactive state to the point where one might feel less comfortable sober and less motivated to decrease intake.
Like many technologies, whether the impact of e-cig and vape use is positive or negative depends on how it’s used, but the availability of e-cigs and vapes will make it easier for consumers of tobacco and alcohol to switch to healthier alternatives such as e-liquid vapor or cannabis (in states where that option is legal) and to decrease usage of such substances if one chooses to.
Though I now dislike the smell of cigarette smoke, I hold no grudges against smokers but hope they are aware of and/or open to safer and healthier alternatives. I’m also well aware of how difficult it is to quit because I used to smoke and have known many people who have tried to quit for many years. Besides nicotine and additives, there’s countless other factors behind addiction such as genetics, peer pressure, media images, ritual, subconscious drives, personal trauma, depression, and/or reasons no one will ever know. Ultimately it may be a combination of unique factors for each individual, but the point is we shouldn’t be judgmental towards smokers (or vapers) because most of us experience various addictive behaviors in varying degrees and frequencies.
Food, exercise, work, internet, TV, games, gambling, money, shopping, hoarding, sex, religion, even support groups are also addictions that can have harmful consequences if taken to an extreme. What harm reduction advocates understand is that it is not necessarily the cessation of addictions that is of utmost importance but the understanding of root causes and management of the problem to ensure the greatest quality of individual and community life. E-cigarettes and vapes can help do just that by providing a safer and healthier option for those who would otherwise continue to smoke.