By Steve Forbes
SUPERSTITIONS ARE ALIVE and well. Not the kind athletes and other performers are known to indulge in, but big ones, like the belief in witches centuries ago, that affect all of us. One example: the weird war that health officials continue to wage against electronic cigarettes. E-cigs have been a godsend to people who wish to give up smoking or avoid taking up the habit in the first place. These devices involve no smoke, only a vapor, but give one the pleasure of nicotine without wrecking the lungs.
Smoking among teenagers is at the lowest level since authorities began surveying people back in 1975. Not coincidentally, e-cig usage among teenagers has grown enormously. But instead of being hailed as the most effective antismoking tool ever, e-cigs have been pilloried as the devil’s device to hook the unwary to tobacco and for posing hideous health threats to users. The latest example is a report entitled “A Community Health Threat” from the California Department of Public Health, which apocalyptically attacks e-cigs and calls for drastic action to curb their use.
It turns out this report is scientific garbage: It twists facts, quotes scientific studies out of context and is laced with outright whoppers. Health expert Sally Satel succinctly and thoroughly demolishes this egregious example of junk science in a piece on Forbes.com (honesty-on-e-cigarettes). “It is stunning that a public agency entrusted with the health of the population of California would promote such a one-sided, scientifically impoverished document.”
Alas, California isn’t an outlier in these baseless assaults. Other health officials who know better indulge the current hysteria. Numerous cities and states are imposing cigarette-like restrictions/bans on these life-saving devices. And politicians are pushing for punitive taxes on them.
The new surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, has sensibly noted that there’s a “desperate need of clarity” on the subject of electronic cigarettes. If a fact-based, nonhysterical approach were taken, all would be well. But don’t count on anything like that happening. The fanatical fervor of antismoking crusaders won’t be stopped by objective science. The reason? E-cigs too closely resemble the real thing–which is like waving the proverbial red cape in front of a bull. But there’s also another factor at work: an intolerant, puritanical mind-set that is offended because e-cigs make abstaining from or giving up cigarettes too easy. Forsaking smoking should involve pain, not pleasure!
Instead of focusing on sensible guidelines to ensure the safe and sound manufacturing of electronic cigarettes, antismoking jihadists indulge in what might be called a scorched-earth approach. All tobacco products are regarded as equally bad–a scientific falsehood–and anything resembling cigarettes, even when no tar or smoke is involved, must be quashed.
(See Steve Forbes’ new book, Money: How the Destruction of the Dollar Threatens the Global Economy—And What We Can Do About It.)