There was an interesting presentation given by Daniel Wikler, Professor of Ethics and Population Health at the Harvard School of Public Health, at a seminar in Stockholm last week. It was notable for a number of reasons.
Firstly, among the audience were a number of Sweden’s tobacco controllers. I imagine they were choking on their biscuits every time Wikler talked positively about snus in particular and harm reduction in general.
Eyebrows must also have been raised when he spoke glowingly about the mass migration to vaping by the smokers of the world, and that this could well be put at risk by the sort of harsh and prohibitive regulations being demanded by zealous tobacco controllers, and being delivered by their tame and spineless politicians.
He hinted at the ability of consumer harm reduction products like snus and ecigs to act as prophylactics, and seemed to recognise their power to prevent significant population-level take-up of smoking by young people. Which is all very welcome, and exactly the sort of challenging thinking we would expect from a professor of ethics.
He even talked about the remarkable levels of positive consumer activism, and dashed the tiresome “astroturf” label that is so often bandied about by anti-vaping groups when they are unable to meet vapers’ arguments and evidence head-on.
At the beginning of his presentation the professor seemed to be trying to shock his audience with audacious pronouncements – that in the future he wanted to see a wide range of products, that devices should be powerful, that nicotine levels and/or delivery should be higher. Worryingly, he didn’t seem aware that this has already happened, that his “pipe-dream” is in fact the status quo, and that EU and FDA regulations are about to destroy it at the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen. He also drifted off into a little “the Chinese make some weird shit, we can’t trust ’em” riff, which ought to have set some vapers’ alarm bells ringing.
But we’ll forgive him his ignorance of the market and imminent legislation for the moment. What’s important is that he seemed to be advocating exactly the sort of free-market, laissez-faire situation that has been at the very core of vaping’s success.
But alas, he works in public health and tobacco control. And so at some stage he was bound to let the mask slip. And when it did slip, we saw the unquenchable thirst of the public health industry to control other people’s lives and choices.
It was at this point that he introduced The Plan.
The plan included such bizarre, market-distorting wibble as “The World’s governments should hand out 180 days’ worth of whatever THR product suits them best.”
I guess it’s an admission at least that “Handing out unlimited amounts of patches and gum” has been an abject failure. But it still stinks on so many levels. He then swiftly moved on to some of the prohibitions required by his plan:
Vaping lounges? They’d have to go. Because The Children.
Sweet flavours? Oh no. Because The Children.
Advertising? Gotta go. Because The Children.
And then he delivered the punchline: “Basically what we’re looking for is a medicalisation of these products.”
It’s worth noting at this point that he was addressing the very swivel-eyed prohibitionists that are demanding public vaping, flavour and advertising bans in Sweden, and where the courts are deciding whether to prohibit ecigs completely as unlicensed medicinal products. It must have been music to their ears.
The global free-market for vaping products via bricks & mortar vape shops and online suppliers, with only the light touch of standard consumer regulations to ensure basic standards are met, is working perfectly. The last thing we need is yet another do-gooder from public health standing up and saying: “This is excellent. We must change it.”
The mask always slips.