Lighting a Cigarette by Senior Airman Anthony Sanchelli is licensed under public domain

From seed oils to the food pyramid, health officials have a reputation for missing the mark when it comes to informing public wellbeing. One thing they have prided themselves on however is the success in curbing smoking rates, with cigarette sales steadily declining for more than thirty years. Until now.

Smoking, especially among minors and young adults, seems to be making a comeback in the general public for the first time in decades. The causes of this rise have puzzled researchers, some saying perhaps the pandemic is to blame. After all, smoking is a typical coping mechanism for people struggling with isolation, sadness, and stress – all emotions many have felt while being forced to quarantine indoors. However, this claim is contradicted by data coming out of New Zealand claiming that smoking rates on the archipelago have declined after loosening regulation on electronic cigarettes.

The New York Times partially attributes smoking’s rise from the ashes to fashion. Kat Frey, a Brooklyn copywriter the Times spoke to, calls it part of a  “sexy and ethereal 1980’s revival” with a “contemporarily atypical” aesthetic in contrast to vaping which is seen to some as a juvenile activity.

But undoubtedly the blame in large part rests upon the shoulders of those same health officials. Their puritanical fervor towards the complete cessation of nicotine use in its totality shifted the focus from cigarettes to reduced-harm smokeless tobacco alternatives. In recent years, advertisers and policymakers embarked on a zealous war on reduced-harm smokeless tobacco products and vaping, despite the fact that electronic cigarettes have been proven to be a 95% less harmful alternative. One person interviewed by the Times claimed she “switched back to cigarettes because I thought it would be healthier than Juuling,” a testament to the widespread misinformation against electronic cigarettes.

The shift in focus is the result of a dogmatic, paranoid anti-nicotine mindset which pervades public health spheres that are ignorant of the facts. Nicotine alone has a risk profile identical to caffeine, and can even yield positive effects on persons with mental health and eating disorders as most of the danger from smoking comes from the inhalation of toxic carcinogens and cancer-causing chemicals. Endless propaganda against smokeless products has created a stigma against these products while encouraging legislation which makes access to life-saving cigarette alternatives increasingly difficult to acquire. For example, in San Francisco, youth smoking actually increased by 6.2% following a ban on flavored vape products and Minnesota’s 95% tax on e-cigarettes created more than 32,0000 new cigarette smokers. Meanwhile places with lax restrictions on vaping like New Zealand have seen record declines in smoking rates.

So perhaps it is time for the health lobby to reassess their priorities and acknowledge their recent failures in tobacco policy. In their fight against all nicotine products, they have begun to pursue regressive policies which conflict with their stated goals.