Few people would deny that Vaping
represents a huge change underway in the modern world. When any society experiences a change, it sparks interest, analysis and speculation into how that change occurred and what implications it will have for the future. The fields of Philosophy and Ethics, so often intertwined, are particularly interested in the implications that these changes have for the people of the present and future. A philosophical study of the emergence of Vaping as a lifestyle unveils a fascinating image of how Vaping influences the world, its ethical implications, and how it will affect current and subsequent generations.
Friedrich Hegel, the famous 19th century German philosopher, made a huge contribution to the study of philosophy by combining and refining the concept of the Dialectic, discussed by philosophers since the time of the Greeks. The Hegelian Dialectic presents the progression of the world and the people in it as the result of the successive conflicts, which lead to change. An existing idea is called a Thesis – which over time will come in conflict with a new emerging idea – the Antithesis. From this conflict will emerge a third idea often incorporating aspects of the Thesis and Antithesis – called the Synthesis.
Vaping represents a clear and intriguing example of the Hegelian Dialectic in action. We are presented with what was once the status quo – smoking (The Thesis). As public knowledge grew about the harmful effects of smoking, there grew a strong desire among many to quit this dangerous behavior (The Antithesis). From the conflict between the desire to smoke and the desire to quit smoking and to be healthy arose a middle ground incorporating aspects of both – the electronic cigarette (The Synthesis). Some approaches to Dialectical thought would argue that vaping is a part of the natural progression of society, which is the result of continuous Dialectical change. Other approaches to Dialectics would claim that as Vaping continues to grow, it will become the new Thesis – and in turn will come in conflict with a future Antithesis, and the conflict between them will lead to the emergence of a new Synthesis.
Fundamental to the works of the Greek Philosopher Aristotle was the universality of ethics. According to Aristotle, for an action to be ethical, it must be an ethical approach in any and every situation it may appear – the ethicality of the action cannot be situationally dependent.
An Aristotelian approach to the ethics of vaping presents an interesting debate. Is there any situation where vaping could be considered unethical? One of the biggest criticisms levied against the vaping industry relates to the use of nicotine in many varieties of e-liquids
. There is concern among some that vaping can facilitate nicotine addiction, especially among minors who are vaping in increasing numbers. However, vaping is often used to the opposite effect, allowing for the gradual weening off of nicotine. Also of consideration is if nicotine is a concern when separated from the harmful effects of tobacco. Even if nicotine is a concern, not all e-liquids contain nicotine, and use of nicotine e-liquids is a purely individual choice, so whether Aristotelian ethics presents an objection to vaping is open to discussion.
Utilitarian ethics, or Utilitarianism, is one of the oldest approaches to ethical theory. It argues that in any given situation, the action that promotes the most well-being or happiness, reduces the most harm, or is the least harmful, is the most ethical approach.
The harm that smoking does to oneself is well known – Also of consideration is the broader effects of how smoking harms others. Second-hand smoke is the example most recognizable - as lung cancer and other health effects can harm the friends and family of non-smokers. Another concern is the effects to the environment, as smoking introduces harmful chemicals to the atmosphere, damaging air quality - leading to a variety of health problems and concerns about smoking’s effects on global warming. The land needed for tobacco farming also leads to land clearances, further damaging the environment through destruction of forests and animal habitats. The emotional impact of loved ones who develop cancer through smoking further adds to the damage.
Concerns about the potential harmful effects of vaping have been a strong motivator for much of the regulation of e-cigarettes, including bans on advertising. From a utilitarian perspective, such actions present an ethical dilemma. The addictive effects of nicotine are the largest concern – promoting an addictive substance is rarely considered ethical. However, the health benefits of vaping over smoking
, the lack of second-hand smoke harming others, and the environmental damage caused by smoking and cigarette production present a clear-cut utilitarian perspective: Vaping leads to much harm reduction over smoking, and as vaping does not affect others nearby or the environment as second-hand smoke does, smoking is clearly the unethical choice of the two. Vaping, as an alternative to smoking with minimal harmful effects, is an ethical substitute. The advertising of such products presents a less clear picture for ethicists – with the presence of nicotine being the key difficulty.
Vaping presents an interesting, if understudied, case to philosophers of many different schools of thought. As vaping continues to grow in the modern world, it is likely to encourage more study into how it affects, and is affected, by the modern world, and how its place will continue to change with time.