The self-defeating partisan politics of tobacco harm reduction

Every now and then I read something that I wish I wrote.  Usually that means “I wish I had thought of that”, though in this case it means “I keep trying to write this, but it remains a long-running draft.”  The “this” in question is this anonymous blog post at the progressive news and commentary (and thus, in effect, advocacy) site, Daily Kos.  (Note that the post is in an open contribution space and so cannot be interpreted as one of the semi-official opinions of Daily Kos.)

My favorite observation in the whole thing was:

I had intentions of writing this up as a huge research piece but frankly it’s more important to get it out and start the discussion.

The anonymous author is a true scholar.  One of these days, I will get my full piece about this also.  In the meantime, here is the content:

Let’s get right to the point: Democrats are blowing it on vaping, aka e-cigarettes. There is as we speak a full-scale assault going on against what may be the best tobacco harm reduction tool ever invented. The war has been developing for a while and recently has kicked into high gear, and the most troubling thing is it’s being perpetrated mostly by Democrats, against their own philosophies, goals, and political interests.

The piece goes on to say a bit more about that point, though as the caveat states, it is just throwing it out there, not really doing the research or analysis.  You can go read the rest.  It is short.

What struck me as most interesting about this, is that the post read like what any intelligent and honest outside observer should say about the fight over tobacco harm reduction (THR) in general and e-cigarettes specifically, but which you pretty much never see.  That is, it is what every halfway-decent news reporter writing about the subject ought to be saying.  Of course, it is quite likely that the author of this piece is not an outside observer, but a stakeholder (i.e., a vaper who supports progressive values and is frustrated by ostensible progressives acting as totalitarians when it comes to tobacco products).  Still, it reads like what someone honestly reviewing the available information for a day would conclude.

Of course, that means it was not exactly right.  It contained the usual naive propaganda about why e-cigarettes must be low-risk.  (E.g., Yes, the ingredients are recognized as safe as food additives.  But, no, that does not mean they are safe to inhale — just try inhaling a raisin.)  But it got that side of it mostly right.  What it got exactly right, though, was how supporting harm reduction fits perfectly with progressive values, and yet the U.S. political party that is closer to such values (though generally falls far short of them, it should be noted) has gone all-in in opposing it.

In general, the partisan alignment on anti-THR is just moronic.  I recall when another self-styled progressive information site (albeit one that is generally rather loony compared to voices like Daily Kos), Truthout, declared that THR must be evil because Brad Rodu spoke about it at an ALEC conference.  Since ALEC is evil (in their opinion), then so must be THR.  I wonder what would have happened if someone at ALEC had spoken about child slavery. Would they have decided that opposing it was some secret right-wing plot too?  That is the path that this “our team vs. their team” mentality leads down.

Larger groups that have supported the tiny anti-THR special interest group as one of their own have shot themselves in the foot, as well as given a huge gift to both the Republican party and to people who want to smear progressive efforts to improve people’s lives.  When a progressive voice embraces anti-progressive, anti-freedom, anti-people causes like anti-THR, it facilitates those who want to smear core progressive values as communist or Nazi or the like.  Gentle policies to, say, make sure people living in a rich society have enough money to feed their family are hardly radical or authoritarian.  But anti-THR is authoritarian, as is all of the current-day anti-tobacco faction (as well as the “public health” special interest faction in general).

So long as it is associated with “the left” (whatever that means), however, anti-THR is an incredibly damaging ball-and-chain.  Efforts to keep the majority of the population from slipping into a modern-day feudal servitude matter a lot more than anti-THR, but anti-THR and other “public health” efforts evoke much more vehement reactions by individuals, for obvious reasons:  The policies are much easier to understand, the causal pathway is clear, and they are generally effective.  So while assistance programs to help the poor or banking regulations are pretty subtle, difficult to evaluate, and do not always work, bans on e-cigarettes are obvious in both their existence and impact.

They are, that is, if you are an e-cigarette user.  If you are, you might benefit more in your life from greater banking regulation or the EITC than from being able to vape without stepping outside.  But it is easy not to realize or think about that, and thus vote against the party that made you step outside.  The Republican party, which currently is all about supporting the economic interests of the 1%, does a remarkable job of enlisting middle-class and poor voters to vote against their economic interests because they vote based on orthogonal high-profile issues like abortion, gun control, gay marriage, and such.  But perhaps that gives them a bit too much credit, since the other party is doing so much to help them with that by going out of its way to turn people into single-issue voters who vote R.

4 responses to “The self-defeating partisan politics of tobacco harm reduction

  1. It seems to need a third party in order to exert sane pressure. A third party is not usually a successful contender and indeed tends toward the irrelevant most of the time; but there are circumstances where it begins to have some relevance. Taking the same issues in a microcosm – the UK – we see that people are so dissatisfied, even to disaffection, by the mainstream parties that for the first time in many decades the third party (LibDems) are influencing politics (and a fourth party, UKIP, has begun to influence policy).

    Socialists appear to be vulnerable to a significant diversion from their core principles (the betterment of the general lot of the average citizen, presumably) via a successful takeover of policy in discrete areas by strong pressure groups with commercial backing or other powerful funding sources. So now we have socialists working to destroy the health and welfare of millions; little real difference between policies on either side; and disaffection growing faster than in living memory. Under these circumstances, a third party has more chance of prominence. Its best chance of success is presenting policies with a clear difference.

    I don’t know if this has any chance of working in the US. Maybe not as the scale (especially costs) is so large.

    • Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on where you sit) the US electoral rules basically prevent third parties from being anything other than symbols (there is an extensive polisci literature on this point that leaves no doubt — just in case observation is not sufficient). That is why factions within the two parties get created instead. Unfortunately, the progressive faction in the Democratic Party has not pushed back on this particular issue against the corporate faction of the party that is behind anti-THR. And, indeed, as I noted, some idiot progressives have actually supported it.

      As a result of the locked two party system, the US does not even have a leftist party (other than tiny symbols). The Democratic Party would be considered center-right in most any other Western country because the corporate faction (which includes the President, the congressional leaders, and the money) dominates over the progressive faction. This tends to reflect or perhaps create the politics too: Note, for example, our health care financing reform, which basically moves us from having by far the least-“left” system in the Western world to merely being only being the extreme by a little bit compared to second-place Switzerland, is treated as if it is some radical move.

  2. Most of the partisan politics we see today is about stuff that should divide us as a country but it does.
    Two parties gives the illusion of choice where there truly is none.

    I have noticed at least in long term vapers that there is a trend to a more Libertarian way of thinking.
    What that translates into at the ballot box isn’t huge numbers yet but it could be.
    I was a socialist Democrat when I started vaping and now I’m a registered Libertarian.
    If there are more or less vapers like me I have no idea,but I have always thought it odd that the vaping issue alone makes people think like that.
    Maybe it’s sheer frustration with the same old rhetoric,the same old solutions,the same ideas.I truly have no idea.

    But in my mind I have always thought vaping makes Libertarians .
    A simple thought,but perhaps one the current politicians could learn from,when people perceive you as trying to take something from them they change.

  3. Pingback: Demonization of tobacco users (or, just because it is a puff piece does not mean I cannot analyze it) | Anti-THR Lies and related topics

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