Breathe Deeply

Ronald Reagan was a young man during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt (and a supporter of FDR), and he apparently took notes.

When Reagan became president, he reinstituted FDR’s weekly radio addresses. Having begun his show business career on radio, and an old hand by then at radio commentary, Reagan was a natural, a smooth, professional communicator who often used simple metaphors to explain complex concepts. For what it was, it worked.

Succeeding presidents kept up the practice, until Donald Trump finally passed on the chore. I can’t imagine why this matters, or who was paying any attention to these anyway. I’m just noting that something we got used to, accepted as standard behavior, has stopped. In this era of upended norms, ending Saturday-morning canned speeches doesn’t raise my eyebrows.

But it has a lot to do with why I pay little attention to these presidential debates going on in the Democratic Party. They’re part of the political landscape now, and they actually seem better than they were, but it’s still TV soundbiting for the low-information voter. These candidates all have websites, and they’ve done a million podcasts and given a million print interviews.

The only reasonable inspiration to watch these at all, really, is to pretend to be other people, to wonder if any of these prepared one-liners and recitations of policy positions will strike a chord in your neighbors. And then, to wonder how the eventual candidate might appear in a debate with their eventual opponent, in this case Trump.

And I doubt very seriously that Donald Trump will debate in 2020. Circumstances might force him to follow the norm, but I doubt that any of his questionable advisors will look at debates as anything other than a field of landmines, waiting to be tripped.

So I have no interest, really. I follow this very carefully, probably too much. I don’t need to watch. It feels like a preseason NFL game when a mid-season player strike seems inevitable.

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I’ve got to write about vaping, I guess. Someday soon, anyway. It’s just so rare that I know what I’m talking about.

A couple of years ago, a local physician with a strong interest in technology approached me about helping him write a book about e-cigarettes. It was speculative and he soon gave up the idea; the regulations were already getting ominous, and the market he envisioned was going to be much more difficult to reach.

But I did a fair amount of research anyway, including some anecdotal stuff, interviewing customers about their reasons and reactions. I read a lot of articles, including medical writing.

It was a little baffling. This seemed to be an answer for the millions of smokers who just don’t seem able to quit. I understood this, so my bias was strong; I’d been an occasional smoker for decades, sometimes on a regular basis, sometimes much more intermittently (and usually a secret, never a good idea). The first time I tried (what was then) a primitive e-cigarette, I realized the enormous potential for replacing a dangerous but compelling habit with a fake one. I never was tempted by a cigarette again.

I still vape. I took one along on our trip to Europe, although I considered leaving it at home, and I rarely used it. It provides me some pleasure. I have zero interest in someone else’s opinion.

I accept that it might be considered a vice, although I tend to put it in the same category as artificial sweeteners—it’s a better alternative, depending on the individual situation, even if the best choice would probably be for all of us to pass on flavored carbonated water, sugar or no. But you’d have to pry that Diet Coke out of somebody’s dead, cold hands.

The problem, obviously, is my bias. Life’s too busy and worrisome; it’s easier to set your opinion and let it go, particularly when someone appears to have a personal stake. Chalk it up to lack of will or something, move on, ban the damn things. Smoking is smoking.

It’s just not vaping, and there’s the tug. I know a lot about it; I know a fair amount about addiction and compulsive behaviors, too. I read the initial stories about hospitalizations and eventually deaths, and you bet I paid attention.

And it’s impossible to deny rationalization on my part. Even as I prepare to state that this is no big deal, if I get concerned it would be easy just to stop, I’m aware that I’m still doing it and know that it’s probably not a neutral thing, inhaling chemically-fortified water vapor into my lungs. It’s just fun.

But I was aware from almost the beginning, having a personal stake, that the issues were getting elided and avoided and distorted. It wasn’t that these poor people were dying from vaping, anymore than from breathing—they were inhaling adulterated products, mostly because they were trying to get high or in some other way enjoy the benefits of cannabis products in a region where they’re still illegal.

Again, I don’t think that vaping is a net anything. I believe I’d be better off not doing it. It’s also possible that these hundreds of respiratory illnesses are related to the mechanics of vaping, regardless of the substances involved. So far, no signs.

But like bathtub-gin poisoning, a true epidemic during Prohibition in the U.S., the answer can mostly be found in relaxing the laws and standardizing production. If you want to avoid this sort of thing, legalize.

But if you want to ban e-cigarettes, as counterproductive as I believe that would be, it’s disingenuous and corrupt, really, to not ban tobacco. Nearly half a million Americans die every year related to smoking, not vaping. Start at the top.

And that’ll never happen.

There’s a lot of hypocrisy, but mostly hype. There are relatively few people who currently vape, so it can feel like a mystery, a bad thing for the kids, etc. Millions of people stop smoking without turning to e-cigarettes. Suck it up and stop sucking it up.

Sigh. I don’t want to get into this. I’m a grown man who understands very well my flaws and demons. I think concerns about children are warranted (but could we put to rest the idea that flavored anything means they’re designed to appeal to children? Are adults supposed to lose their sweet tooths? I see no signs of this). I’m not going to sit at a table and blow mint-scented mist in your face.

I’m just going to sit at my desk and stare at an empty Word file, and puff on some vapor until words come. I’m not interested in defending my habit, or justifying it, or caring any at all about your thoughts on the subject. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or interested, really.

But I do know the subject.

And keep your hands off my Diet Coke, seriously.

 

Chuck SigarsComment