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.