[NetBehaviour] Accelerationist health policy

Edward Picot edward at edwardpicot.com
Fri Apr 29 22:41:58 CEST 2016

The Royal College of Physicians have just announced their approval of 
e-cigarettes. Since the reason smokers smoke is in order to get 
nicotine, but the thing that makes smoking bad for your health is tar, 
e-cigarettes evidently reduce the harm caused by smoking by 95%, which 
means that actually you can probably vape all you like and it's still 
going to be fairly innocuous compared with other activities like 
drinking too much or eating lots of cream cakes or cheeseburgers.

Furthermore, for smokers, e-cigarettes seem to represent a far more 
effective way of giving up tobacco cigarettes than the more traditional 
willpower + nicotine patches or gum. This is partly because, like 
cigarettes, they combine the delivery of nicotine with certain other 
forms of satisfaction - something to fiddle about with, something that 
gives you a certain 'look', the satisfaction of blowing out smoke (which 
I used to love when I was a smoker) and oral satisfaction (the 'mother's 
nipple' effect).

What's more, the Royal College has also concluded that there is no 
evidence of e-cigarettes leading people towards tobacco cigarettes (the 
so-called 'gateway effect').

So, is this an example of new technology offering a breakthrough which 
years of health advice, taxation and public health policy have been 
unable to deliver? Probably yes, but it's a nuanced yes.

For one thing, even though nicotine by itself is nowhere near as bad for 
you as nicotine + tar, it's still bad for you, and obviously the effect 
of e-cigarettes over a period of many years hasn't yet been 
investigated, because they haven't been around all that long.

For another thing, as far as I know there haven't been any proper 
environmental costings of e-cigarettes (although you can find some 
fairly poor-quality ramblings on the subject via Google), but it seems 
likely that they will be considerably more energy-expensive to 
manufacture than traditional cigarettes, and considerably more 
landfill-expensive to dispose of. The nicotine in e-cigarettes is 
presumably still mostly extracted from plants, especially tobacco, which 
must be much more energy-costly than just drying it and rolling it up. 
Fag-butts do tend to end up getting flushed into the water-supply in 
huge numbers, which is much less likely to happen with e-cigarettes, but 
other than that the environmental impact of a transition from tobacco 
cigarettes to e-cigarettes seems likely to be negative.

But that's typical of new technology, isn't it? It gives with one hand, 
and takes away with the other.

- Edward

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