That’s the question raised by National Public Radio columnist Alva Noe.
It’s an interesting point he makes. If e-cigarettes looked like a medical inhaler, would anyone care about them being used in public?
The controversy surrounding these devices is fueled by these facts about look and feel. If they looked like medicinal inhalers, or if the vapor exhaled were not designed to resemble smoke (as I assume that it is), there would be little to fight about. For there would be no link to cigarettes and smoking. No one argues that smoking bans should be extended to nicotine gum.
But the fact is, on both sides, symbolic benefits and symbolic dangers govern the discussion.
Anti-smoking activists have long worked hard to tarnish the appeal and glamor of the smoke. They’ve been trying to tear-down smoking’s image. From their point of view, pretend smoking is dangerous if it does anything to make smoking seem appealing. In the trenches of the smoking propaganda wars, a smoking simulacrum is a dangerous weapon, not because it’s dangerous itself or poses dangers to others, but precisely because it may not.
And on the other side, manufacturers and their shills are quick to insist that that e-cigarettes are a tool for quitting. Why? Not because they are a safer cigarette, but because they are not a cigarette at all, but rather a nicotine-delivery system that has the appearance of a cigarette. Again, the value in a simulacrum.
Again, being one of the anti-smoking activists that Noe refers to, I’m personally on the fence on e-cigs. They are safer than cigarettes, but not completely safe, and keep a person addicted to nicotine addicted. However, they are not annoying, don’t irritate the nose and eyes, and if they genuinely help some people quit smoking, more power to ’em. I reserve judgement.
He definitely brings up some salient points about perhaps part of the reason there is so much controversy surrounding e-cigs. They simply do look like cigarettes and in fact, in the Blu E-cig ads, they are marketed the same way as cigarettes back in the day — to appear cool and sleek. If e-cigs are controversial because they look like cigarettes, well, the e-cig industry has definitely tried to market them as somehow being a “different kind of cigarette,” which is perhaps why there continues to be so much confusion about what exactly they are.