Just Another Word?
by Paul Bergen
When I first heard the e-smoking community was using the term vaping, it seemed interesting to me but little more than that. In fact, I just thought it was some sort of NewSpeak rather than anything really useful.
Just words. No?
"...like oral sex being a type of sex, is not vaping just a type of smoking?"
Was Monica Lewinsky just blowing smoke, when President Clinton argued that oral sex was not really sex?
What I do know is that his distinction is lost on most partners when submitted as an exception. And like oral sex being a type of sex, is not vaping just a type of smoking?
But now I’m thinking that this is one useful term. And I am also thinking that there is a small potential for harm as well.
Though most of the readers here will not need to have vaping defined, for those who might not have tapped into the revolution, vaping refers to inhaling vapor just like smoking refers to inhaling smoke.
Having spent many hours writing about tobacco and electronic cigarettes I understand the frustration of constantly qualifying what kind of smoking I am referring to. So this word is rather handy. But more importantly, this kind of specificity stands as a wonderful opposition to the sort put out by anti-smoking groups, where you will see an utter disregard for any distinctions at all.
In their haste to pummel tobacco companies and smokers into submission, they are fond of treating all tobacco as the same, all exposures to smoke as deadly, and all non pharmaceutical sources of nicotine as roughly equivalent. They do not see any difference between light and heavy smokers; you smoke or you don’t. The health of it just does not seem to matter to them.
So vaping is a huge step forward here. It is pointing out that how you get your nicotine does matter. And by extension all the differences do matter.
If we care about getting healthier it matters whether we are vaping or smoking.
Some anti-e-cigarette activists oppose it on the grounds that it is still smoking, that it is simply a means to circumvent smoking restrictions. The drive against vaping is really an admission that these groups do not really care if nicotine users live or die.
So what could possibly be "the bad"? It is just a potential and given that vapers are almost entirely if not all ex-smokers (I have yet to meet or hear of anyone vaping who did not first smoke) this may or may not be a danger. For the most part, people who have been smokers can empathize with current smokers but we also know the zeal of converts. Ex-smokers can be as unforgiving as the puritanical 'never smoker'.
What I worry about is that the same kind of moral infection that has taken over the health camps finds its way into the nicotine using community (or is used against them). It is not useful to consider smoking or vaping as other than alternative ways to enjoy nicotine. Vaping is much healthier but it is not more moral.
If they are not already, vapers and smokers must stay united as individuals who happen to enjoy nicotine without it implying anything about them as people. Using nicotine is a choice and not an indication of character or a marker of being a good citizen.
E-smoking is a grand opportunity to get back to fighting for the basic right of being able to engage in activities that give you pleasure and do not hurt anyone else (not unlike Lewinsky and Clinton). And it is nobody’s business if they cause you harm or not; that is your business. And if you like to smoke but worry about your health, go and vape instead. But don’t imagine that it makes you any better than any smoker. Once you start doing that you are supporting the paternalistic buggers out there who think they have the right to control you.
Paul Bergen writes and researches in tobacco harm reduction, epidemiology, and communication. At the University of Alberta, along with Carl Phillips, he developed tobaccoharmreduction.org and presently runs the associated blog. His previous areas of research and training included psycholinguistics and information science.
Also see: The Electronic Cigarette Glossary