Electronic Cigarettes and the Fog of (Class) War

A week ago, after 27 years at an average of probably two packs of cigarettes a day (and “smokeless tobacco” before that; I switched when I discovered that girls I wanted to kiss objected to the whole mouth full of tobacco thing), I’d have called you crazy if you suggested I was within a week or so of becoming an ex-smoker.

It’s true, though. I had two-and-a-half packs of cigarettes left last Tuesday. Now, on Sunday, I’ve still got half a pack. I’ve cut my smoking by about 75% through “vaping” — getting my nicotine from an “electronic cigarette” that delivers a smokeless vapor without all the tars and gunk that you get from burning tobacco — and when this pack is gone I expect to never buy another.

About the time a friend was putting together an “electronic cigarette” package to send me, the US Food and Drug Administration was mailing letters to several manufacturers/sellers of e-cigs, informing them that the regulatory hammer is about to come down.

I’m dismayed, but hardly surprised, to learn that the US government, the tobacco companies and their “non-profit” anti-smoking counterparts are conspiring to keep me (and millions of other Americans) on tobacco. Smoking, and pretending to oppose it, are big moneymakers for the political class.

The FDA’s been trying for decades to bring tobacco within its regulatory grasp. It seems to have finally succeeded. That’s only natural. Bureaucrats always seek more power for themselves.

The tobacco companies fought FDA regulation tooth and nail, but once it became reality they embraced it and made the best of it. What is the best of it? In a word, monopoly.

One of FDA’s first acts was to ban flavored cigarettes (except for menthol). The main target was the clove cigarette, which is usually imported. One competitor down.

Buried in FDA’s new authority is a grandfather clause. Existing cigarette brands and types are somewhat protected, but new products require “approval.” Anyone who follows the ongoing saga of pharmaceutical development knows that FDA approval entails hundreds of million dollars in trial, submission and lobbying costs.

The days of tobacco innovation are over. FDA is giving existing tobacco companies and their existing product lines a de facto corner on the US nicotine market. As of 2005, that market included about 45 million cigarette smokers and another 8 or 9 million cigar smokers and smokeless tobacco users. That’s billions of dollars in sales (and — cough, hack — tax revenues) every year, locked up nice and neat for Big Tobacco and its friends in government respectively.

Enter the electronic cigarette: No tobacco involved. Nicotine and flavorings are delivered in a liquid (propylene glycol or vegetable glycerine), slightly heated to produce a fog or vapor. While the full health implications aren’t yet clear, it’s a safe bet that e-cigs are safer than “real” cigarettes. Cigarette smoke is full of carcinogen-laden “tars.” E-cig vapor isn’t. There’s no “secondhand smoke” because there’s no smoke at all.

Even thought they’re currently only a tiny portion of the nicotine market, e-cigs are driving all the usual suspects crazy.

Big Tobacco wants them gone ASAP because they threaten tobacco profits.

The FDA wants to bring them under its regulatory authority because authority is what regulation is all about.

If you’re surprised to hear that the American Lung Association has condemned e-cigarettes, you shouldn’t be. They rake in more than $50 million per year, mostly by leveraging the scare value of tobacco-related lung disease. “Non-profit” or not, the continued solvency of ALA depends largely on the continued popularity of their bête noire, smoking.

The alleged Axis of Anti-Smoking — Big Government and Big Non-Profits — are fully aligned with Big Tobacco on the issue of electronic cigarettes. If we take their claims at face value, smoking kills more than 400,000 Americans per year … and they want to keep it that way.

If you ever find yourself falling for the lie that government is on your side, remember that the FDA and its “private sector” cronies are willing to inflict the equivalent of the 9/11 attacks, 130 times over — every year, year after year — as the price of preserving their own power and profits.

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