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Do vapers have an obligation?

by Carl V Phillips

I read an interesting brief thread just before taking my current yet-another break from Twitter (it is depressing, the world today; note that this means I will tweet that I have posted this, but may not look at my mentions). I am not linking or identifying the thread because the poster expressed a hint of doubt that s/he should really be quite so combative and emphatic about the point. But the emphatic nature of the tweets definitely had value because it got me thinking.

The upshot was, basically, “hey, you paid grandee types, please stop telling us, ordinary people who made a choice in our lives to quit smoking via vaping, that we have some obligation to get out there and spread the word, tell our stories, and push back against those other paid grandees who are attacking vaping.” It is a valid thought that is worth exploring.

Where might such an obligation come from?

There is the argument that we should all do something to try to make the world a better place, apart from our paid labor, and we should play to our comparative advantages there. That is, the admonishments can be read with the same tone as advice to vote or pick up litter: “Everyone do your part.” Then add the fact that vapers have an advantage in one particular area, offering help to smokers who might benefit from switching: “Anyone can pick up litter, but you are in a unique position to credibly tell the world ‘this works! try it!’.”

For some views of the social contract, this is enough to justify urging vapers to speak up. According to other views, of course, it is not. And for some vapers, it may not be their major comparative advantage (which might be creating public art or taking care of children), so this is relevant to some vapers, but not all. Universally-phrased admonitions imply that there are no such exceptions.

If that alone is not enough to create obligation (for either some or all success-story vapers), is there something more? Perhaps.

There is an argument that pay-it-forward situations create additional social obligation, beyond a generic “just do something to make the world better.” I could say that I and a few others worked hard for many years, at great personal sacrifice, to make your success story possible, and the least you could do is speak up to keep it going forward. But a legitimate retort to that is (a) “thank you, however I did not agree to repay, pay forward, or pay at all, so please do not suggest your largesse an obligation” and (b) “thank you, but today most people today who are telling me I should be out there doing stuff are profiting quite nicely from their work in this area, so it is not like I owe them anything.” (Yeah, I just suggested that the only legitimate responses include thanking the pioneers, even if it ends there — doing ethical philosophy does not remove all human desires :-).)

On the other hand, and I think this is in the spirit of the tweets that triggered this, there are a lot of things we could all be paying forward. We benefit from the efforts to defeat the Nazis, create the internet, eradicate smallpox, and ensure access to elementary education. But please do not tell me I should spend concerted time every day doing something for the next generation as a specific response to the advantage I got from each of those. (Note that I chose examples that someone profited from, quite a lot, but the people who really made sure it happened were doing it because it was social good.) What business does anyone have telling people which (supposed!) social obligation they should be proactively paying forward?

In some sense, telling someone that their vaping success is a defining element of their niche in society is just a variation on the tobacco control obsession mentality. It is a Most Important Thing In The World for a few people, but not for most people. For someone who fought or fights this war, just like someone who carried a rifle in a Good War (setting aside the question of whether anyone under the age of 90 qualifies as having done so), it is personally defining. So it is easy to think it is more socially defining — or personally defining for those affected — than it really is.

That’s all. No conclusions or policy recommendations. Just some thoughts about something that deserves some thoughts.

Original author: Carl V Phillips
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