My journey into vaping

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Day 136: Smokers are stupid?

The beginnings of this train of thought happened back in March with a Huffington Post “lack of thought” piece, and the venting of some Red-Headed steam as a result, which made me wobble to my feet for a standing ovation. Then a little part of a Stanton Glantz response to the FDA deeming rolled past:

not appropriate for analysis of behavior involving tobacco because tobacco use and the associated nicotine addiction almost always begin during adolescence (well before the age of reason) and that nicotine changes the way the brain processes information, and thus, rendering “rational” decision-making models inapplicable.

Nicotine changes the way the brain processes information, rendering “rational” decision-models inapplicable. To which I said, “Hmm-mm.” And thought about famous smokers, like Churchill and Einstein. I also remembered a study I had seen which linked Nicotine to an improvement in cognitive function – perhaps suggesting that nicotine users could be seen as “more rational” rather than less. This is my brain on nicotine? Well, perhaps, but anecdotes aren’t evidence. Case studies are however, and I can call for research. In fact I suggest that it would be good to have the cognitive function of non-smoking nicotine users studied where it’s not being used to treat a condition. That is by using recreational nicotine users in a study. Compare it with caffeine perhaps.

The point is this; have scientists always looked at smokers as being stupid, and forgotten to ask smokers why we smoke(d)? Or is it rather that our reasons for smoking have been dismissed as stupidity? Some of us are really quite clever, and certainly capable of enough navel-gazing to come up with some plausible excuses for wanting a cigarette. Oh, I’m sorry. I was phrasing the question wrongly; just as I believe some of the smoking surveys have done.

Smokers get a high because nicotine triggers the release of dopamine in the brain – a chemical linked to feelings of pleasure. {source}

Typically, answers they come up with are that they smoke because they are unhappy, unsatisfied, nervous, bored, anxious, lonely, tired or just frustrated without their cigarettes. Other reasons often quoted are that cigarettes keep them thin, make them better able to think, or that they are more sociable while smoking {source}

The fact that smoking is bad for people’s health has become common knowledge, yet a substantial amount of people still smoke. Previous studies that sought to better understand this phenomenon have found that smoking is associated with the tendency to take risk in other areas of life as well. The current paper explores factors that may underlie this tendency. An experimental analysis shows that smokers are more easily tempted by immediate high rewards compared to nonsmokers. Thus the salience of risky alternatives that produce large rewards most of the time can direct smokers to make bad choices even in an abstract situation such as the Iowa Gambling Task. These findings suggest that the risk taking behavior associated with smoking is not related to the mere pursuit of rewards but rather reflects a tendency to yield to immediate temptation. {source}

I have never got high, or had a buzz from a cigarette. Sometimes I got a little light headed from the first cigarette after long abstinence but this wasn’t something I liked. I found it unpleasant.  I perceived a benefit from smoking and that benefit outweighed the risks (before I knew about vaping)  – this does not mean that I am more likely to always take risks in every situation. Correlation does not always equal causation. Perhaps I’m right in thinking that it increases concentration, and keeps the weight off me. Perhaps I’m not mistaken in the fact that it can act as both a stimulant and a relaxant. Perhaps I’m not stupid.

The last time I relapsed to smoking it was over 5 years since I had smoked a cigarette. I was no longer “addicted” to nicotine at that point, yet I smoked a cigarette and became a smoker again. Not because I’m stupid, but because of those benefits that I’m told aren’t real – or are not worth damaging my health in order to have. I was told that I’m a stupid smoker who is addicted and so needs medical treatment in order to change my perception of those benefits. The problem with that is that the benefits to nicotine use are real for me; not just in my head. Without a cigarette (before vaping) there was a gnawing lack of those benefits which never eased with time. I don’t believe that nicotine is as difficult to give up as heroin; I believe that it is as difficult to give up as caffeine. I have the exact same issues with stopping caffeine use as I do stopping nicotine. Relapsing to coffee doesn’t have the same social issues as relapsing to smoking does.

Anti-smoking policies, and now anti-vaping policies, seem to have followed the exact pattern described by Thomas Sowell in “Visions of the Anointed.” — P. 114

“In their haste to be wiser and nobler than others, the anointed have misconceived two basic issues. They seem to assume (1) that they have more knowledge than the average member of the benighted and (2) that this is the relevant comparison. The real comparison, however, is not between the knowledge possessed by the average member of the educated elite versus the average member of the general public, but rather the total direct knowledge brought to bear though social processes (the competition of the marketplace, social sorting, etc.), involving millions of people, versus the secondhand knowledge of generalities possessed by a smaller elite group.”

In a nutshell, those who advise on policy get an idea. That idea becomes fixed as “white Hat Bias” provides only supportive evidence. They impose their solution to the problem, and sit back and wait for it to work. When it doesn’t work, they say “Oh dear, people really are stupid. We have to do the same thing again, only bigger and better.” and it fails. Again.

  1. Smokers are doing something which is very harmful and won’t stop doing it. No matter how much this is explained to them, they keep doing it. Therefore they are addicted, which is a disease, which must be treated medically.
  2. Medical treatment of the addiction is not particularly effective, therefore smokers are stupid. We’ll penalise them for smoking with sin taxes and treat them like stupid naughty children with health warnings.
  3. Sin taxes and health warnings aren’t particularly effective, so we’ll treat stupid smokers (who still need ineffective medical treatments for addiction) like pariahs, ban smoking in public places, and make the health warnings bigger.
  4. Denormalising smoking isn’t really working, because smokers are stupid, so we’ll do it bigger and better. Plain packs and bigger health warnings. Ban it in cars. Think of the children!


Meanwhile from the bottom up comes the solution of vaping. There has to be a problem with it because “experts” didn’t think of it. It is a solution to the problem of the health issues of smoking lit tobacco, that allows nicotine use (and with it the benefits of smoking) but removes a huge chunk of the risk.

The experts then try to slot the bottom up solution into the top-down ineffective framework, by regulating vaping and making it into a medicine with which to treat the disease of smoking addiction. The problem is that smoking can’t be “cured” by treating it as a medical problem; lit tobacco needs to be replaced with a safer consumer alternative which works in the same way. Until we can meet on that same page, or somewhere close to it, we’re never going to get past this barrier to the acceptance of the proper application of the precautionary principle and apply common sense to vaping safety.


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