Are Vapers Just the Latest Drug Users to Be Demonized?

New Year’s Eve is around the corner and no doubt millions of smokers will make resolutions to quit.

Many smokers would love to give up the habit. But smoking is an incredibly hard addiction to quit. Many heroin users say it is harder to quit smoking than quitting heroin.

Thankfully, there is an exciting new tool that is helping millions give up on smoking: e-cigs and vaping. Stand on the streets of most major U.S. cities for five minutes and you will see people walking by with an e-cig instead of a cigarette hanging from their mouth.

It is encouraging how fast e-cigs and vaping have taken off. Smokers aren't stupid. When offered a safer alternative, millions have chosen it. The fact that e-cigs can be purchased at most delis and stores makes it easy for those who want to reduce the harms associated with smoking.

Instead of praising the great news that millions have stopped smoking, too many in the health and anti-smoking fields beat the drums against e-cigs and vaping. Opportunistic politicians and anti-smoking lobbyists ignore emerging evidence that vaping is vastly safer than smoking, and instead are trying to equate the two activities.

City after city has passed anti-vaping laws akin to anti-smoking statues. Cities have prohibited where people can vape, and are currently trying to ban flavors that vapers say helps them quit. Legislation is also in the works to raise the age so people under 21 can’t use e-cigs.

E-cig users should be worried and they should be pissed.

They should be worried because people are going make it harder and harder to vape. And vapers should be pissed because these “health” advocates are trying to take away their tools that can literally help save their life.

It is time for smokers and vapers to join the growing anti-drug war movement. Smokers and vapers may not think about it, but they are also drug users and they are being demonized and threatened like other drug users. And vapers may not know it, but they are also harm reductionists.

Harm reduction is a major philosophy of the drug reform movement. Thanks to harm-reduction activists we have clean syringe programs that have prevented hundreds of thousands of people from getting HIV.  We have passed laws that allow people to call 911 when witnessing an overdose without fear of being arrested.  And have expanded access to naloxone, which reverses overdose.

But there are too many backward-thinking politicians and uninformed folks who have tried to block such programs by using the same flawed logic that it sends the “wrong message.”

E-cigs and vaping is the most mainstream example of harm reduction in our society right now. It's something that can save more lives than any other harm reduction practice in our society.

But there will be reactionary folks who will try to ban vaping and e-cigs like they tried to ban clean syringes.

Vapers need to fight for their rights and their lives. They need to join our movement and say we are not going to allow misinformed, judgmental folks to take away their e-cigs. There are millions of vapers who could be a powerful political voice.

Ethan Nadelmann, of the Drug Policy Alliance has a powerful message when he talks about the cost of a slow learning curve. It took the U.S. 20 years to get behind syringe exchange programs, even though much of the rest of the world had embraced it and the evidence was crystal clear that syringes reduced HIV while not increasing drug use. Because of this slow learning curve, hundreds of thousands of people needlessly got HIV and died.

This is our moment to organize and fight for e-cigs and vaping as a life-saving harm-reduction practice.

A slow learning curve is not something we can accept.


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