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social media outburst gives vaping critics black eye

What is it about the online social media that fosters mudslinging? Some say it is the absence of facial expression and gesture. Some say it is the fact that words go live before the sender has time to think them over. And some say people are just disagreeable cusses and like to talk nasty.

In any case, UK health advisor John Ashton allowed his baser instincts to get the better of him on Twitter, and in the process gave a big shiner to the critics of vaping.

Professor Ashton has occupied the position of President of Britain's Faculty of Public Health, where his duties involved advising public officials on matters of hygiene. (The Faculty operates independently and is not directly linked to Her Majesty's government.) Apparently his advice often included staunch opposition to vaping.

But the mean-mannered medic's attitudes about electronic cigarettes apparently run deeper than the rational surface, and go far beyond matters of health policy. The doc seems to harbour profound personal animosities toward those who vape, feelings linked to his own sexual fears.

The Daily Mail Online reports that Dr. Ashton's opposition to vaping is based on his concerns "about their long-term effects." But such concerns would hardly explain his charge that an opponent is "a new species of human being... an obsessive, compulsive, abusive onanist with e-cig tendencies." ("Onanism" is an archaic synonym of 'masturbation', deriving from the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, where a patriarch named Onan "spilled his seed upon the ground," which prompted the American humourist Dorothy Parker to name her parakeet Onan.)

It may take a team of psychoanalysts to unravel Ashton's train of thought here, but for the time being, Ashton simply gave up his advisory post with the Faculty of Public Health, which made profuse apologies, as did the hapless Hippocrates. The acolytes of Professor Freud may now have at it!

The incident is instructive, revealing as it does an irrational underside to the opposition to vaping. Anti-smoking enthusiasts are riled not only by the health effects of smoking, but by the look of smoking. Again and again it is apparent in diatribes against vaping that it is the public spectacle of the smoker that becomes a focus of animosity. It has long been thought that smoking involves a psychic undercurrent with sexual elements.

It took the forensic immediacy of Twitter to bring forth the sleazy details of this sentiment from the depths of Professor Ashton's unconscious mind. For all its ugliness, this incident may have the positive result of exposing the murky sub-rational side of the opposition to vaping. Whatever demons may torment John Ashton, their exposé discredits the advocates of overweening regulation, and may serve to lessen their influence.

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