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The Taboo Words in E-Cigarette Politics

Why some words are taboo in the e-cigarette debate, and the impact this has on progress

When discussing issues related to e-cigarette bans and regulations, some terms or subjects are taboo for each group or profession involved. The mention of one of these terms or issues will stifle discussion and make further progress difficult or impossible.

The reasons for this vary for each group, but as with all taboo subjects, participation is essentially prevented or reduced for the majority of group members. In some cases, the subject is one that most group members prefer to avoid, or to dismiss as not relevant or even pretend does not exist, when in fact it is crucial and may be the main reason an issue exists at all.

In other cases, the taboo subject conflicts so strongly with a group member's personal 'world view' that they cannot perceive the issues clearly, due to the conflict, and are forced into denial in order to preserve the status of their beliefs.

E-Cigarette user community

For ecig users, the taboo word is politics. There are two important reasons for this:

1. People cannot in general accept that their freedom of choice, their access to products, the price they pay for products, and in fact all of their basic rights of any kind are entirely determined by politics: the interplay between various financial pressures and group demands, determined by others and not themselves. This is related to the fact that people see themselves as free actors, with freedom to determine all aspects of their daily lives - when in reality they are more like a railway train: travelling down a set of tracks established by others. The concept that they are not as free as they would wish to believe, and that their right to do or not do anything / everything is determined by politics and not themselves, is contrary to everyone's belief in absolute self-determination. That there is no such thing within a society is, in essence, a concept too difficult to grasp. When looking at an ant's nest, most people would assume their lives are entirely different from that of an ant, as they have 'free will'. In practice such freedom may be a little more ethereal than they would want to consider.

This is a mental process of denial, since most aspects of their lives are rigidly controlled by politics. People instinctively realise this even though they may not admit it to themselves; avoidance of 'politics' in all its forms is their defence. Denial of the relevance of politics to their daily lives is one way of rejecting the concept that they do not, in fact, have free will.

The braver community members throw off that mental safety blanket and accept that others control their lives; and that to change something, you have to do it from within - you can't do it from the outside. After all, it is no good appealing politely to people who have completely different goals from yours - you will always fail.

There are only three ways to change something: with a huge army of millions; with huge funding of millions; or from the inside with a few determined people. The latter method is usually the only viable option, but only the clearest thinkers recognise it.

2. Politics is subconsciously regarded as a dirty word, and seen as the province of those unemployable in any other enterprise; not to say smooth-talking cheats or even liars. Confidence in our politicians is at an all-time low due to the never-ending procession of outright lies presented as good reason for going to war on behalf of the oil and arms industries, drug wars and neo-imperialism; the expenses scandals; and the lobbying scandals.

In a word, politicians are seen as scoundrels, the sort of people to be actively avoided. There is a strong undercurrent of feeling that politicians, or at least some of them, are mendacious; detailed inspection shows them as ignorant incompetents. This is the outstanding factor emerging from the video procedures in the UK Parliament and the EU committee hearings: the representatives are clearly completely ignorant of the issues, and certainly not competent to decide policy; and this is abundantly clear to any viewer familiar with the issues.

The fact that there are undoubtedly good, conscience-driven representatives does not seem to impact this underlying feeling of distrust, because there are clearly enough bad apples to give politics a poor reputation.

You cannot move a community by mentioning the P-word. They will run swiftly in the opposite direction. Instead, you must:

  • Present simple, discrete tasks as a requirement to retain one's rights, and avoid any contamination by mention of anything P-related.
  • Locate the ten people in a million who are stronger, braver, and clearer of thought than the rest, and work with them. It's the same in any sphere: only ten in a million can see exactly what is required in order to make progress. They will be able to suggest ways to move the community without mentioning the P-word.

Since the avoidance of politics is a recipe for failure in enterprises of the nature of THR promotion, but the community must of necessity be involved, some delicacy is required. Thus, you may be able to persuade people to stand up for their rights by suggesting they visit, phone or write to their MP, MEP, Congress rep or other representative, and this may be successful when presented in the right way. That this is fully engaging with politics by becoming part of the political process can be omitted in the name of progress.

Don't mention the P-word or you are doomed to fail.

Politicians and policy-makers

For politicians, the taboo word is corruption.

For a politician, their world depends on the interplay of groups and individuals with conflicting beliefs on any issue who must negotiate or compromise in order to advance and improve the civilised world. The system depends on honesty, and the willingness of people to act in good faith on behalf of those whom they represent, and on accepted standards of morality.

At least, that is the theory. It is not clear where the theoretical country might be where this ideal of the perfect administrative system exists. Perhaps it is Iceland or somewhere like that: far enough away, and cold and Nordic and far enough north to make the idea seem feasible. We know their bankers are useless, of course - but whose aren't.

The concept that, instead, some decision-makers are corrupt and work to their own advantage, in order to benefit industries or government departments or government economic goals instead of the best interests of the people, instead would mean that policy decisions are morally worthless and unjustifiable - that in fact their work is pointless because the outcome is determined by outside players rather than those debating the issue. This is not just unacceptable to them but too difficult for many politicians to contemplate.

On June 3rd, 2013, on BBC Radio 4, a member of the House of Lords who had just been entrapped by journalists posing as lobbyists was asked, "Aren't you ashamed of being caught negotiating for cash payments to promote an industry?", to which he replied: "But that's the way Parliament works".

This may or may not be true; but not all politicians are corrupt, and our task is to locate them and work with them to counter the effect of others who clearly have an agenda which is in direct conflict with public health.

"We have the best politicians that money can buy, and they can be relied on to forcibly defend our freedom to buy cigarettes and get sick."
- Chris Price

You cannot influence honest, conscience-driven politicians by pointing out that some others are clearly corrupt. This is a conversation-stopper. It is no use showing that a policy or decision is anomalous, and contrary to the interests of citizens (public health, in this case), and that such decisions are clearly not based on reasoning but must be influenced by corruption since the result will severely hurt the public interest (and in the case of e-cigarettes, regulation will clearly result in the certain death of millions).

Instead, you must find some other sort of argument to employ; a difficult task when there is no other possible reason and something else must be concocted (such as a mistake in scientific interpretation or similar) for the sake of progress.

The C-word is taboo and its mention will stop all further progress.


For regulators, the concept that regulations are not needed for anything and everything is taboo.

A regulator's world depends on establishing rules, enforcing them, and maintaining them (and thus having a well-paid, secure job). The concept that in some areas they are not needed is anathema to a regulator since it means that they are not needed and may even be irrelevant. This is an impossible concept for most people, as it affects their self-perception and self worth.

In particular, consumer products need no more than basic safety protections since the market determines what survives and what disappears. The effectiveness of a consumer product is a concept so unimportant that its irrelevance is usually unstated: it is a given. A car with no engine will disappear from sale no matter how well it is marketed; a car with a poor and unreliable engine will be outsold by better products. Consumers don't need to be told by government what works well or not: it's obvious to them as soon as they try it. If they want to know before they buy, they read a review - which is why review websites are some of the most successful on the web.

So, suggesting the possibility that more regulations are not needed, to a regulator, is the same as saying they themselves are useless and unnecessary; a sure way to stop all further progress.

Medical professionals

For doctors and others in the profession, the taboo word is corruption, and the taboo concept is that health issues are irrelevant in discussion of how to reduce smoking prevalence.

They cannot appreciate many of the issues surrounding e-cigarette bans because it may make continuation of their personal world-view problematic: a doctor believes that health issues determine the outcome of policy decisions on health. While that may indeed be true in areas where there are no financial implications (if there is such a thing), in the area of smoking the financial pressures are so immense that health issues are not just of lesser importance, they are irrelevant. Policy decisions are based on horsetrading between the players; and the players are those making money from smoking. Smoking has created a monster money machine, and is protected at the highest level as a result.

Also, doctors probably don't appreciate that the pharmaceutical industry makes more than the tobacco industry from smoking, at least in some countries (such as the UK), and consequently are among the biggest players in the smoking game; and if they do not realise a fact so basic as this, connected so closely to their own profession - then how can they possibly evaluate the issues correctly?

National economies depend partly on smoking, since governments make at least ten times what the tobacco industry does from it; and government survival depends on protecting smoking, since 25% of the population voting against you is not a recipe for popularity.

A further issue that alienates all doctors is discussion of the rather obvious fact that bent medics paid by the pharmaceutical industry to promote industry propaganda are a basic requirement for pharma's robust and effective opposition to THR. The idea that doctors can be found who are clearly working directly against the interests of public health seems rather problematic for some doctors to grasp.

In fact, many doctors' grasp of the issues seems tenuous at best:

  • Many doctors seem to think that pharmaceutical interventions for smoking cessation are effective, when in fact these have a 9 out out of 10 failure rate
  • In a recent survey, 40% of UK doctors thought nicotine was the most harmful compound in cigarette smoke
  • 44% thought nicotine is associated with cancer
  • 15% even thought NRTs (medical nicotine) cause cancer [1]

If a significant proportion of doctors are unaware that pharmacotherapies for smoking cessation don't work; that nicotine is about as harmful as coffee and probably represents about 1/100,000th of the danger compared to the smoke; and that nicotine cannot be demonstrated to have any association with cancer in humans [2] - then it is reasonable to assume that their overall grasp of the situation is rather weak. Some education is required before any progress can be made; and a certain delicacy of approach is required.

Don't mention corrupt doctors or the irrelevance of the health issues in policy making, in any discussion with medics - or you risk termination of the debate.

Why are e-cigarettes banned or regulated?

There is only one reason for e-cigarette bans, or regulations additional to consumer protections, and that is money: industries and governments influencing decisions for their own benefit, in ways detrimental to public health.

The mechanism for these policy decisions is:

  • A government orders the relevant department to ban or restrict ('regulate') e-cigarettes, in order to protect cigarette tax revenues and favoured industries
  • A policy-making committee independently votes to ban or restrict ('regulate') e-cigarettes, for the benefit of committee members paid by competing industries, or in some cases to satisfy the idealogical motives of members who believe they have the right to control others' personal affairs even at the cost of their lives

Since all such actions are directly contrary to the public interest as they are clearly damaging to public health, they must be defined as corrupt.

A person who cannot accept the existence of corruption is deluded and utterly naive. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, though, and instead of concealing the problem, it needs to be exposed to daylight. Corruption flourishes in the dark; it is a problem within weak governments; and it is a significant driving force behind decision-making in some administrative environments without sufficient control of policy makers.

The UK government is famously weak in the control of corruption - there isn't even a list of registered lobbyists, or a prescribed method of removing corrupt MPs or Lords. A government that cannot control 'lobbying' is not a government, it is a facilitating instrument for industry profit at the expense of the public's rights and health. In addition, the revolving door staff exchange between an industry and its government regulator is not controlled - a direct and obvious route for corruption, ensuring that government departments are at risk of regulatory capture.

Ask why decisions are made that protect a product that kills up to half of those who continue to use it, and prevent its replacement by products that don't kill enough people to even register statistically, and the answer will be: 'politics'.

When 'politics' is a euphemism for 'corruption', it is no wonder that sensible people steer well clear of it.



[2] a. See the work of Profs. CV Phillips, B Rodu and PN Lee in the med. lit.

b. "Nicotine has about the same implication for health as coffee and fries" - CV Phillips, an authority on the epidemiology of nicotine and tobacco consumption.

c. Sweden has the lowest male lung cancer and oral cancer rate in the EU. As Snus consumption rose, oral cancer rates fell dramatically. Cancer rates in Sweden are falling at the same rate as smokers switch to Snus, a processed smokeless tobacco product that supplies significant amounts of nicotine (more than cigarettes, in some cases).