Extremists’ use of terminology to bully e-cig community

One more thought about the new UC Riverside extremist-propaganda-pretending-to-be-a-scientific study.  We have already written about the main substance of it, as has almost everyone who writes about the topic.  But one point that seems to have been overlooked is the use of pseudo-scientific jargon as a schoolyard bullying tactic. 
The authors of that pseudo-study and others in the anti-tobacco extremist community have decided to start calling e-cigarettes Electronic Nicotine Delivery Devices (ENDS).   There are several legitimate good reasons why it is useful to invent a neologism for scientific or other purposes.  Pretty much all of those involve cases where there is not already a word for the category of objects/concepts/whatever you are trying to describe.  The most obvious need is when there is simply no natural word for a category.  For example, it is useful to have a collected term for smokeless tobacco, e-cigarettes, and other extracted nicotine products.  I tend to use “low-risk nicotine products”, but there is not a settled term since others prefer to “smokeless” and “smoke-free” nicotine products.  I prefer “low-risk” because it explicitly captures the reason for creating the category, but smokeless is certainly accurate and effective.  (Some people insist that there is some difference between smokeless and smoke-free, though the distinction escapes me.)
In other cases, a neologism is needed because the present term does properly describe a category.  For example, “anti-tobacco extremists” is a created term (by us at TobaccoHarmReduction.org) that was needed to avoid the absurd use of “public health” to describe a political faction that is primarily or exclusively committed to the elimination of all tobacco (and now e-cigarettes) per se, regardless of the public health implications, and indeed is doing substantial damage to true public health in pursuit of that end.  The term that was being used included a broad group of unrelated people, so a new term was useful for specificity alone, but more important the extremists were no longer part of the true public health community, and using “public health” as a shorthand for them was insulting to public health and gave the extremists credit that they do not deserve (but take advantage of to fool the public).
But there is no need to create a new term that includes exactly the same category of items that is already covered under “e-cigarettes” (which most everyone uses for all such products, including those with variant shape that make them look cigars, pipes, or marker pens rather than cigarettes).  And if for some reason an author does not like the preferred standard term, a second established term is “personal vaporizers”, which is wonky enough to appeal to those who think that e-cig is far too plebian for them to use.  No term is needed.  It is not as if there are other devices other than e-cigarettes that they are trying to capture in their category, or things that are called e-cigarettes that they are trying to exclude, and thus actually need a different word.
Why did they invent a new term, then?  For the same reason that George Bush created nicknames for most everyone he knew, or that schoolyard bullies or fraternity leaders do the same:  To try to assert power over people by denying them that most basic right of choosing their own label (or choosing to keep using the one that someone else chose ages before).  Evolved nicknames are typically friendly; forcibly assigned nicknames are psychologically violent.
Perhaps the present case is not quite so bad as individual bullying since the “them” in question is an “it”; the e-cigarettes themselves will not mind.   But anti-tobacco extremists are trying to assert ownership of discourse about e-cigarettes by relabeling them, which is damaging and inappropriate at many levels.  Moreover, there is still an attempt at inter-personal bullying here since there is a large established community of real people who are active aficionados of, advocates for, merchants and makers of, and even researchers of e-cigarettes.  It is this group that owns the terms and concepts.  For the extremists to intentionally ignore that they (we) have an established term is a way for them to say, “your own view and understanding of your own practice is of no more consequence than the self-perception of infectious disease agents, criminals, insect pests, or terrorists; we will study and write about you without even considering that you are anything other than something that needs to be controlled.”  Even for those who might not have that view (though I would guess that it predominates), the most charitable interpretation is, “you are like young children, pets, or (from an unenlightened era when most researchers acted like those who write for Tobacco Control) savages — “we do not wish you dead, but we certainly are not going to consider your views to be of any interest.”
Of course, since the extremists have made clear that something in this range is their attitude toward smokers and anyone who supplies or defends them, there is really no reason to be surprised that they have taken this attitude toward vapers (another word I suspect they will not use).  But though not surprising, it is is worth noting:  We should avoid becoming so used to this behavior that we start to think that it is reasonable.  It tells us a lot that these people – in contrast with real public health advocates – show no apparent compassion or respect for those they pretend to be trying to help.

6 responses to “Extremists’ use of terminology to bully e-cig community

  1. There has been the same kind of nominalism concerning hookah (shisha, nargeela, nargile, etc.), named “waterpipe” by the WHO Study Group on Tobacco Product Regulation (TobReg).

  2. There are two main reasons for renaming E-cigs Personal Vaporizers among those that use them.

    First from a very personal standpoint, when you post a lot of text PV is an easier abbreviation and less key strokes.

    From a political standpoint, a PV further distances itself from “cigarettes”. If you are speaking with someone that may be a tobacco nazi (or as you say an anti-tobacco extremist, remember when it was just the anti-smoking campaign)they may let it pass, Also E-cig implies that you are at least consuming nicotine and quite a few PV users have quickly reduced nic levels to zero. So much for the highly addictive label.

    Finally, if you look at the product itself, PV makes more sense. Yes, the original style looked like a cigarette, even down to white batteries, a brownish liquid dispenser that looked like a filter and a red led tip. Now they come in all shapes and sizes, even some that look like pipes.

  3. Actually, the first product that Sottera (NJOY) sold in the U.S. was the NGAR, a product that looks (and tastes) exactly like a cigar. The cigarette version did not come along until the following year.

  4. Though I do understand the desire for distancing to avoid stigma (and having a handy short term to enable speedy communication) I worry about the overall effects of separation of the camps which could actually hamper smokers from moving over. See http://www.ecigarettedirect.co.uk/magazine/vaping.html

  5. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    That is another good example, Randall. I know they are called hookahs in Arabic and usually that is adopted in English, but do not know if there are other languages/places where they have different names, and so “waterpipe” is a neutral among them. Do you know?

    I agree with Paul's reasoning, and will try to keep using e-cigarette as long as it is acceptable (but try to avoid “e-liquid” which just makes no sense to me — the liquid is not electric!). After all, if I need to save characters, EC is as short as PV. I understand the desire to distance, and that probably serves some purposes but on net I think understanding of what is relevant is served by emphasizing the sameness. Besides, it is the sameness that saved e-cigs in the U.S. — if they had been more different, they probably would not have gotten the reprieve from the extremists at the FDA.

  6. For the record:

    I have sometimes chosen to use “Smoke-free” rather than “Smokeless” or “low-risk” to be politically neutral. I was concerned that “smokeless” was the generally accepted term for traditional chewing tobacco, and “low-risk” could be perceived as a (unproven?) health claim.

    It is called “e-liquid” because it what you use in an “e-cigarette” and it is a liquid. :P Combustible cigarettes are called “analogs” in reference to our Digital Age where we have even digitized our cigarettes, but some people prefer the realism of (an) analog.

    With that said, I completely agree with your sentiments. I think that “Liquid Tobacco” or maybe “Vape Juice” might be more appropriate terms.

    I suspect that “PV” and “mods” will remain insider lingo among the Vaping Community for a while. Most of the time, I will refer to an “e-cig” even though I haven't used a PV that looks like a cigarette in a very long time.

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