Brian Monteith: E-cigarettes are latest target

THERE can be little doubt that the so-called permissive age is well and truly over.

A person smokes an electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette. Picture: PA

This may be thought a good thing by some, but while we wrestle personally, within our families and across society, with some of the unintended consequences of social liberation during the 1960s – such as the sexualisation of society at a young age – it is clear that in many other respects the pendulum has swung the other way towards authoritarianism.

All sorts of bans and restrictions on our lifestyle choices have been introduced or proposed by governments of all colours in recent years that reduce personal liberty and remove personal responsibility, all in the name of seeking to engineer a perfect homogenous society with longer life expectancy, irrespective of the quality of our lives.

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Slowly the nanny state that tried to warn us against making those wrong choices has become the bully state that firstly punishes us through punitive taxes and then makes criminals of us for ridiculous policies such as smoking in our own cars even when we are alone. While there are legislative milestones that are life-changing – such as forcing motorcyclists to wear crash helmets, occupants of cars to wear seat belts and forcing smokers out of pubs and on to the streets – these restrictions have been gradual enough and usually perpetrated against minorities, so that public opposition is usually muted.

Thus it is no surprise that the non-smoking majority approves of further restrictions against the smoking minority and agree it has been a good thing; that the public thinks that as motorcyclists are coerced into wearing protection for their own good then applying such a law to those on push bikes makes sense; and that if those in the front seats of cars must wear belts then so too should those in the rear.

Once a principle of intervention is won then extending that principle to limit our liberty further becomes far easier. The goal of the modern-day puritans is to ultimately make our society tobacco- and alcohol-free, an agenda that is now only beginning to be aired in public but has existed for a long time. Thus we are told there is never an acceptable amount of tobacco or alcohol consumption, even though evidence exists to refute such statements.

Those who that say they have our best interests at heart and believe they should take our decisions for us, do occasionally have the odd setback, such as the UK government’s unwillingness to include in this year’s Queen’s speech the removal of identifiable branding from cigarette packs. Nevertheless the momentum remains in the bullies’ favour and is unrelenting.

There are now thousands of tax-funded bureaucrats policing existing prohibitions and crimes – and advocating yet more powers for them to have over us. That there is usually little evidence to give any credibility to the new laws before or after their introduction does not matter, for it can easily be rustled up by junk-science and cod-research that massages statistics, compares lemons with kumquats and ignores inconvenient facts.

Examples that I have written about in these pages before abound, be it here in Scotland, such as in the falsely-claimed benefits of the smoking ban or the hoped-for advantages of the minimum pricing of alcohol, or abroad such as in the consumption of sugar, salt, caffeine, butter and other fats.

Yet another example of introducing restrictive practices that suppresses freedom of action, kills innovation and, as is so often the case, benefits both big government and the big pharmaceutical companies, is now being advocated by the UK’s Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA): namely to classify as medicinal all nicotine delivery systems other than those involving tobacco, by 2016.

This may seem inoffensive, and is being presented as perfectly sensible regulation, but it is nothing more than the joint self-interest of two lifestyle bullies seeking to kill at an early age the one positive development in making the consumption of nicotine safer, namely the introduction and use of e-cigarettes.

These battery-driven conveyers of nicotine in a vapour do not involve tobacco and therefore offer no health threat from tar. They are already used by over a million people in Britain, many of whom smoke them for the enjoyment they get from a nicotine high and by others who see them as a way of replacing cigarettes more effectively than through the use of nicotine gum, patches or inhalers. And therein lie the reasons why it must be controlled. For big government, enjoying nicotine must be discouraged and for big pharma, commercial advantage against a new kid on the block must be retained.

For big government, e-cigarettes are to be demonised because they normalise and make acceptable the practice of consuming nicotine. Why, most of them look like cigarettes and issue water vapour that looks like smoke (but plainly isn’t). Smoking must become a stigma and anything that makes nicotine consumption socially acceptable – no matter the fact that e-cigarettes must, by big government’s own arguments, have the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives – must be discouraged.

For big pharma, e-cigarettes are to be countered for they offer competition to their lucrative but generally ineffective cessation products, and for that reason the industry has been lobbying hard for them to be classified as medicinal and subject to significant controls.

The result will be that introducing more and more restrictions on e-cigarettes will be easy and out of sight, being done through agencies of government rather than requiring primary legislation, as is required for tobacco products.

But e-cigarettes are plainly not medicinal, for they are not a cure, they are recreational. There is no evidence to support this intervention. But big pharma and big government have one thing in common – they are both big bullies who want to retain the power they enjoy. E-cigarettes are their latest target, but the victims will be people who instead of accessing them effortlessly will find eventually they have to go to their doctors or pharmacy to obtain them, if they remain available at all.