Personal Blog of Mark Hoskins – Anarchist Writer and Community Organiser
My name is Mark and I’m a nicotine addict. I started smoking in 1994 at the age of eighteen. I’d had the odd drag of a smoke from friends while drinking. One night I found a packet of matches and, in the mood for a smoke, I bought ten Marlboro red. I was hooked more or less immediately, and now, twenty years later, I’m still hooked, I still need to get my nicotine fix. Whose fault was it that I started smoking? Ultimately I made the decision, so it was my fault. But you know, to paraphrase Marx, we make our own decisions but not under conditions of our own choosing. As much as I like to think I’m exercising my own free will when I make a decision, like anyone else, the images that I am bombarded with on a daily basis, have to have some effect.
All Oasis needed was cigarettes and alcohol, Alex James played bass with a fag hanging out of his mouth, Jimmy Cooper in Quadrophenia had a smoke with the bottle of Newcastle Brown he nicked at that gaff party, and so on and so forth. Teenagers are impressionable. These were the people I admired. These were the people whose style I emulated. I’m not blaming Oasis or Alex James or a fictional mod from the original movement for my nicotine addiction, more so the effects of decades of marketing that convinced us that smoking is cool. Cigarette advertising is banned in the EU now, but the residual effect of those decades and the billions spent lives on. The images of the past from films and music videos are still with us. At any rate, in the USA in 2011, $8.4 billion was spent on cigarette advertising and promotion.
Even where the tobacco corporations can’t advertise, they use their money to employ lobbyists who make sure their interests are always represented by some high level politicians. Tobacco, which is estimated to cause 5 million deaths world wide every year, does not generate the same outrage, for example as drugs like ecstasy, cannabis and LSD, which have been shown to be less harmful in many studies. The lancet medical journal estimated 114,000 cigarette related deaths in the UK per year, compared to 27 ecstasy related deaths, one cannabis related death (the annual cannabis related death must qualify for some kind of Darwin award) and no deaths related to LSD use. In fact, the annual figure for smoking related deaths surpasses the number for ecstasy, cannabis, LSD, cocaine, heroin, ketamine and a host of other drugs combined. Clearly there is something wrong with drug policy in most parts of the world.
In the last couple of years however, a ray of hope shone through the clouds of cigarette smoke for hopeless nicotine addicts like myself. Electronic cigarettes, vaporisers and other smoke free nicotine delivery devices meant that we could get our hit without all that carcinogenic smoke. We could feed our habit while lowering our risk of getting cancer. Of course, we’re still not sure what the long term effects of vaping are, but can it be worse than something that causes five million deaths per year? Well, it doesn’t involve smoke, so unlikely.
The vaping bug spread among my circle of friends pretty quickly, now almost all the nicotine addicts I know are doing it. If that trend is duplicated among wider numbers (and you see a lot of people using the devices around), then tobacco corporations and tobacco related tax revenue must be taking a big hit. In the UK at least, it is estimated that out of 10 million smokers, 1.3 million have made the switch to vaping. At that rate, the tobacco industry would be wiped out in a few years. Is it any wonder then, that electronic nicotine delivery devices are the source of the latest manufactured moral panic?
The EU have been discussing banning refillable devices like the one I use and despite the fact that there are no secondary effects, vaping will be banned indoors in New York from the end of this month. The argument is that e-cigs will get new users addicted to nicotine and later, encourage a switch to analogue smokes. Given the UK stats and anecdotal evidence, that is ridiculous. It is smokers who are switching to vaping. By all means, take some action to prevent new users getting addicted to nicotine in the first place, but come on, don’t take away the only hope of millions, maybe billions of people from kicking their unhealthy and expensive smoking habit.
There are issues that need to be dealt with around e-cigs. This is a public health issue. The products we use to replace smoking should not be controlled by private corporations whose bottom line is profit. The tobacco corporations, whose market share is shrinking should not be allowed take control of the industry. Overall though, any sensible drug related policy has to focus on harm reduction, so smokers should be encouraged to make the switch. People like me should not be punished for decisions we made when we were impressionable teenagers. We’re addicts and if vaping is taken away from us, we’ll be back on the fags in the time it takes to run to the local shop.