To understand why electronic cigarettes have such passionate advocates, you have to understand the libertarian ideology underpinning the devices. To technophiles, e-cigarettes are not just a solution to the global smoking crisis, they are a beacon of free-market innovation.
While the tobacco industry is a perfect symbol of everything wrong with capitalism, and a clear illustration of the need for government regulation to protect consumers, many vaping defenders see their industry as a public-health solution guided by the profit motive. It’s capitalism operating to save lives.
There is one problem: E-cigarettes, on their own, don’t appear to be very good at saving lives. If you really want to get smokers to quit, you need to build an incentive structure.
Consider a study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study’s authors took some 6,000 smokers enrolled in tobacco-cessation programs through their employers and randomly divided them into five groups. The first received information about the health benefits of not smoking and motivational text messaging. The second received free cessation aids, such as nicotine patches or pharmacotherapy and, if those failed, free e-cigarettes. The third received free e-cigarettes upfront. And the final two received financial incentives - worth up to $600 - if they kept from smoking.
The result six months later? Those receiving financial incentives were up to three times more likely to quit than those given free e-cigarettes.
The lesson here is not to do away with e-cigarettes. They are, after all, a tool that can be used along with incentives.
Clearly there is a need to regulate e-cigarettes to ensure they’re not doing such harm. But they should also be part of a health campaign to specifically target smokers and offer them incentives to stop smoking.
And, yes, that might someday include government programs offering money.
That might rattle the libertarian sensibilities of some in the vaping community. But if they truly want to help people and free our society from the scourge of tobacco, science strongly suggests this is the right path.
The Washington Post