I had been “between opportunities” for nearly a year and was trying to find work. I had received a phone interview with a company and was nearly finished with the call when the Human Resources representative asked me one final question.
Are you a smoker?
As it so happens, I was, and had been in the process of quitting for several weeks. I was proud of myself, having gone from a pack-and-a-half-per-day habit to just a handful. My next step was going to be to completely stop.
Taken off guard, I said as much to the interviewer.
The response was quick, “I’m sorry, we can’t hire you. You are a user.”
A "user?" I was dumbfounded. The conversation ended quicker than it took you to read it.
My first response, after shaking off the shock, was to walk across the street and buy a pack of smokes.
Few subjects get people on their soapboxes faster that tobacco use. In many ways, this is understandable. It is a dirty habit, triggers allergies in some, smells bad and, of course, causes damage through second-hand smoke. Cigarettes lack the cache of cannabis. Even folks who get lit and climb behind the wheel often feel justified in ostracizing smokers.
Few these days see nicotine as an addiction that needs to be treated in the same vein as alcohol or drugs, yet I can tell you first-hand it is a hard habit to break. It is a running joke among smokers that they quit every day, but there is truth in that statement. In the intervening years since I first quit, twice fell off the wagon.
I can only speak for myself, but the the urge to have something in my hand while having a drink or a coffee will strike me when I least expect it. That hasn’t changed in 20 years. And I still have the same gut reaction to anti-smoking advertising saying, “smoking is stupid.” It is definitely not the reaction those campaigns desire.
So, I have followed the debate on vaping with great interest.
I have never had the desire to vape. So long as the tobacco smells nice and I do it outside, the occasional pipe is acceptable. But in it I see a good cigarette alternative — it satisfies the need to have something in hand, to go through the motions, in a way that gums or patches do not. It is a clean delivery system. And it eliminates the worst byproduct of tobacco use — damaging second-hand smoke.
I firmly believe, as adults, we all should have the right to ingest what we wish into our bodies, so long as we aren’t doing harm to others. Thus, it seems a promising solution.
Vaping existed for about a decade before taking off in 2015 when new technology from Juul Labs took it mainstream. Usage particularly spiked with teens, reversing trends away from smoking in that age group, in part, it has been argued, because of non-tobacco-flavored options.
The sudden boom caught the industry, and regulators, by surprise. As is often the case, regulations haven’t caught up.
This became apparent as vaping-related illnesses and deaths spiked in the last year, causing a public outcry leading to China banning e-cigarettes, and the Trump Administration to consider banning flavors (Trump has walked that back in the last few days).
While the spike in vaping-related illnesses over the last year is alarming, those numbers pale in comparison to smoking-related illnesses and death. It hardly seems logical to ban devices that may be beneficial without having a full understanding of the cause of illness. At this juncture, the CDC has theories, but no solid answers. Third-party sellers and the black market seem a likely culprit.
Banning legal sales could actually drive consumers smack-dab into that market, or back into traditional cigarettes, not to mention destroy businesses and livelihoods that have grown up around a legal industry. San Francisco, for example, recently put a moratorium on vaping sales while leaving traditional tobacco untouched. That seems inconsistent, to say the least.
It was only in 2016 e-cigarettes came under the jurisdiction of the FDA. That was a grave error. Clearly, e-cigarettes should have been subjected to the same regulations as other tobacco products. They should not be marketed to children, and if they were, those who did so should be held accountable.
But something about this move to ban e-cigarettes reminds me of that conversation 20 years ago with that Human Resources officer. I was a “user,” who offered the opportunity for a company and its representative to make a moral judgment about my character. It doesn’t pass the smell test.
It seems the worst kind of political opportunism. Exploiting an anxiety-driven public fear of youth at risk, fueled by a distinct lack of understanding how these devices work, or the market, both legal and illegal, and fanned by a breathless media. Banning based on so many unknown factors is excessive.
What is needed now is pragmatism. Study. Enforcement of existing regulations. A knee-jerk response, no matter how well-intentioned, could set dangerous precedents regarding individual freedoms, not to mention take a valuable alternative to traditional tobacco out of the hands of those who need it.