My first piece of the year is up at Slate, taking a look at how decades of stigmatizing smoking now clouds the current debate over vaping:
This is particularly fascinating because the innovations that make safer nicotine consumption possible arrived in a time of cultural realignment with regard to the use of various psychoactive substances. University of London historian Virginia Berridge has noted that western societies are increasingly willing to distinguish between “use” and “problem use” for cannabis and some other illegal drugs. And yet still, any use of tobacco is seen as inherently problematic. “Tobacco was changing places to become more like a drug, while drug use itself was becoming ‘normalized’ and part of a wide spectrum of substance use in society,” writes Berridge in her 2013 book Demons, which tracks attitudes toward alcohol, tobacco, and drugs from the early 19th century to the present day. “From the 1980s onward, new ideas about drug use tended to see it as more ‘normal’ while tobacco smoking became seen as pathological.”
These attitudes are so pervasive that they’ve ended up threatening the most promising product yet for tobacco harm reduction, forcing vapor advocates into a defensive posture couched in purely medical terms. And while the harm reduction case for e-cigarettes is compelling, I’d like to suggest a more radical proposal for how we should approach regulating the product: recognize adults’ ownership of their own bodies. Approach vaping not as mere medicine (it’s more than that) or just another form of smoking (it’s much safer), and treat it as one of many moderately risky activities that consenting adults should be free to engage in.