Why would the WHO call for a ban on e-cigarettes?

Reason‘s Jacob Sullum reports thus:

(The article is pretty much what it says on the tin.)

Michael Siegel notes that the World Health Organization is urging countries to ban electronic cigarettes because they “undermine the denormalization of tobacco use.” True, they do not contain tobacco, and using them does not involve inhaling any combustion products, so they are dramatically safer than conventional cigarettes. Still, they “are products resembling cigarettes,” and that can’t be good, right? Never mind that actual cigarettes would remain legal under the WHO’s proposal.

(Emphasis added.)

Note that e-cigarettes are amazingly effective at helping people quit smoking precisely because they mimic smoking so closely.

There are two ways to look at this.  First of all, the WHO could be playing a very long game, writing off the lives of present smokers who’re trying to quit by (one of) the most effective means available in order to hasten the day when sticking a white tube betwixt your lips is about as socially acceptable as carrying a sign that says “THANK GOD FOR 9/11” outside a soldier’s funeral.  A few more deaths now, a lot fewer (expected) deaths in the glorious future.  Callous and calculating, yes, but ultimately harm-reducing if they got the cold equations right.

Or, they could just be signaling.  Signaling seriousness, as with most zero-tolerance policies; or signaling contempt for the nicotine-addicted plebeians, as with most anti-smoking policies; or signaling prudential conservatism, as with most new-technology bans.  Or hey, this is a UN organization: Why not all of the above?

(Of course these options are not mutually exclusive.)


1 Response to “Why would the WHO call for a ban on e-cigarettes?”

  1. 1 kbiel
    October 26, 2012 at 13:42

    My very uninformed guess about the situation, at least with regard to the U.S. which might be influencing WHO, is that there is some legal confusion surrounding e-cigarettes. On the one hand, it is a product the FDA would love to regulate or ban outright. On the other hand, tobacco regulations prevent the FDA from coming any where near tobacco or products derived from tobacco. It is my understanding that the FDA has made some moves to regulate e-cigarettes, but has been slapped down in court. In other words, “it’s a product and/or industry we don’t control, we must do something and since we can’t, let’s ban it!”

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