No Easy Answers

How could public vape-related health policy making be better?

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“There are no easy answers. There are only intelligent choices,” so said an old advert for the Caterpillar Tractor Company (CAT). When it comes to ecig policy making our pubs, clubs, stadiums and public buildings are proving that CAT’s campaign fell on deaf ears. Each week a new policy prohibits vaping – just to be safe.

For many of us the answer seems obvious: vaping is 95% safer than smoking and offers no danger or genuine inconvenience to those nearby therefore people should be allowed to vape in public. But then is this the easy or the intelligent answer?

For Dave Clements, writing in The Guardian, the answer is simple: “If people choose to smoke, vape or drink too much that should be up to them.” He argues for the right of the individual to live a life based on his or her own choices regardless of the health ramifications.

Clements contrasts the about face by leading UK health bodies with that of the intransigent World Health Organisation and the European Union, the latter who rely on “dubious claims – rubbished in PHE’s review of the evidence – [that] have been used to justify threatened clampdowns.”

He highlights the contradictions at the heart of public health policies where officials distrust the public to make the correct choices and yet they spout a mantra of “improving outcomes and experience of care” through promoting “independence, choice and control”. Could this be down to a conscious rejection of what vapers might call common sense approaches?

Satoshi Kanazawa’s The Intelligence Paradox might point to reasons. In the book he details how research demonstrates that intelligent people are more likely to do stupid things and be stupid. It also reveals that intelligent people are more likely to reject the simple solutions due to the “smoke detector principle”. It is postulated that we are predisposed to be paranoid and err on the side of caution – picturing worst case scenarios and putting in place measures to negate their potential.

If we think along these lines then the muddled thinking of Martin McKee suddenly becomes slightly more obvious. The laws appertaining to smoking in cars become almost understandable in this light, if not wholly justifiable. Laws that although garnering the support of 57% of those surveyed in Nottingham had not convinced 66% of them they should report people smoking in a car. Shades of grey exist in what individuals find acceptable but become more black and white for vapers when Article 20 is mentioned.

But what about the Blackpool boy who had an electronic cigarette vent in his school blazer pocket? Does he not deserve protecting or should he be allowed to remain free to make his own choices too? Not even a school-wide ban and it being against the law to sell to under-18s prevented this incident happening. Does society have the moral duty to protect its weakest members no matter the cost to those who are able to make rational, informed choices?

As the heading says, there are no easy answers for vaping. If we fail to come up with universal solutions among ourselves then is it any wonder that those non-vaping yet intelligent public health experts and politicians struggle? Maybe the only solution is to drive a Caterpillar tractor through the Tobacco Products Directive and begin again.

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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