Banning E-Cigs: WWFD?


“Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in a letter of 1819, “within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”

It’s shocking how often modern democratic governments violate the spirit of Jefferson’s definition in the form of regulations enacted for the alleged health and safety of citizens. H.4553 recently filed at the state house would add to the regulatory edifice by banning the use of electronic cigarettes in locations including, but not limited to, government-owned facilities, elevators, public transportation, and at public outdoor gated facilities where events are held.

A debate about whether traditional cigarette use should be permitted on public grounds may be justified due to the potential harm to non-users through second-hand smoke. There is no obvious justification, however, for a ban on public use of electronic cigarettes which pose virtually no second hand smoke risk. The lower risk of electronic cigarettes (to user and bystander) is because they work by heating and vaporizing a liquid solution that contains nicotine but none of the other harmful substances generated by burning tobacco.

So why would legislators want to ban a safer alternative to cigarettes? The most likely reasons are ignorance, a misguided desire to appear concerned about public safety, or a desire to provide protection for competing industries such as tobacco. Many anti-smoking activists object to the open enjoying of e-cigarettes on the grounds that it apes, and perhaps encourages, the smoking of nicotine products; and the tobacco industry would, if not justifiably at least understandably, favor punitive measures against the nicotine cigarette’s electronic competitors.

A partial prohibition on the use of electronic cigarettes would do nothing to protect the health of the public, and indeed it may do the opposite, inasmuch a ban on e-cigarettes would discourage smokers of traditional cigarettes from switching to a safer alternative. What such a restriction would certainly do, however, is to inhibit the freedom of law-abiding citizens for the purpose of satisfying advocacy groups and/or to protect the interests of industry competitors.

That is not a sufficient justification for the use of governmental power.

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