“The state should confine itself to establishing rules applying to general types of situations and should allow the individual freedom in everything which depends on the circumstances of time and place, because only the individuals concerned in each instance can fully know these circumstances and adapt their actions to them.” – Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom
Friedrich Hayek wrote The Road to Serfdom about the government paternalism, and since publishing that book, very little has change. Aged, paternalistic governments are suffering from vision loss, and rather than fixing their sight, they are delimiting personal freedom by legislating intrusive, and often unnecessary, laws and regulations.
The proposed regulation of e-cigarettes in Nova Scotia and other provinces–which has been dominating the media cycle in the past few weeks–provides an illustration of overextended governance. Toronto’s city council legislated a ban against e-cigarettes in the workplace and other municipal and provincial governments throughout the country may follow a similar path.
Electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigarettes,” are battery-powered devices that vapourize liquid nicotine, flavouring, and other chemicals. They look virtually identical to real cigarettes, however, unlike real cigarettes, e-cigarettes do not have tobacco. These devices have created a political stir in Canada, Europe, and the United States, and more recently, in developing countries such as India, where 900,000 individuals die each year from tobacco-related diseases. Unfortunately, instead of embracing them as a smoking cessation device, governments abound are proposing laws and regulations that prohibit access to e-cigarettes.
In “Electronic Cigarettes: Review of Use, Content, Safety, Effects on Smokers, and Potential for Harm and Benefit,” published in the journal Addiction this past July, Peter Hajek, prominent tobacco researcher from Queen Mary University of London, discusses the potential benefits of e-cigarette usage and argues that “the evidence we currently have is clear: e-cigarettes should be allowed to compete against conventional cigarettes in the marketplace. Healthcare professionals may advise smokers who are unwilling to cease nicotine use to switch to e-cigarettes. Smokers who have not managed to stop with current treatments may also benefit from switching to e-cigarettes.”
Governments around the world rely heavily on information espoused by global health agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO), however, that information is not always evidence-based. The WHO, for instance, recommended in a report that governments should consider banning e-cigarettes in “indoor workplaces and public places, and restricting their promotion to avoid initiation of non-smokers, youth, and pregnant women.” Upon publishing this document, a cohort of experts in tobacco research, and more broadly, addiction research, refuted the WHO’s claims, stating that the report “contains important errors, misinterpretations, and misrepresentations, putting policymakers and the public in danger of foregoing the potential public health benefits of e-cigarettes.” Last week, Maclean’s published an excellent editorial arguing that “public health agencies around the world [ought to] abandon their pet political crusades and efforts to control private personal choices, and instead focus their energies on fighting infectious disease, wherever it may occur.” If these agencies continue to mislead policymakers, which is the case in Nova Scotia, public policy may stray from rationality.
In 2008, roughly 5 million individuals in Canada smoked cigarettes on a regular basis and 90 per cent expressed a desire to quit. Nova Scotia’s smoking rate in 2011 was 18.1 per cent, slightly above the national average of 17.3 per cent.
Addiction is omnipresent, however, government initiatives to reduce cigarette consumption have been successful at both prevention and reduction. Moreover, as people engage with the evidence, the appeal of smoking begins to dissipate. E-cigarettes have the potential to be a serious smoking cessation device and, in fact, there is a glut of research indicating that they have aided in the reduction of convention cigarette use. In “Real-world Effectiveness of E-cigarettes when Used to Aid Smoking Cessation: A Cross-sectional Population Study,” Jamie Brown of University College London concluded that e-cigarettes are 60 per cent more successful in helping people quit their habit than other smoking cessation devices, such as nicotine patches. Bill 60 in Nova Scotia, the Smoke-free Places Act, sends a negative signal to those seeking to quit. Instead of solving the problem, the provincial government is making it harder to kick the habit by legislating regulations that do not reflect the current scientific literature.
Following consultations with Nova Scotians who have a smoking addiction, the Law Amendments Committee of Nova Scotia decided to remove a ban against certain flavours of tobacco and e-cigarette “juice.” These changes will come into effect in May 2015, and although this step is a small one in the right direction, the provincial government can do much more to make smoking cessation devices accessible to those with a smoking addiction.
Rinzin Ngodup is an AIMS on Campus Student Fellow who is pursuing a graduate degree in economics at Dalhousie University. The views expressed are the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies