I have been meaning to search my archives for important posts that have not been read as many times as they deserve. The great tweeter, @TobaccoTacticss -- whose readership has doubled in the last week and a half (you're welcome :-), helped me choose where to start by posting this table from this survey of Australian tobacco controllers. It shows that 22% expressed support or strong support for "Vaccinating children and/or adolescents against the effects of nicotine to prevent the uptake of tobacco use."
My archive post in question is here, in which I observed:
Most of the discussion about the topic is not about the rational adult making an informed decision, but about involuntarily inflicting the vaccine [a drug that would -- theoretically permanently -- eliminate the body's ability to respond to nicotine] on kids. Those proposing it tend to gloss over that "involuntary" bit, and failure to even address this is a serious ethical problem in itself. But, of course, unless we are talking about a current user who is wanting to quit, this is the only interpretation. Either the kid is already choosing to not use nicotine, in which case he would see no reason to accept the side effects, or he is currently choosing to use nicotine, in which case he would prefer to avoid the vaccine.
Of course, we take actions that restrict kids' choices all the time. But there is something rather different when the method involves altering their bodies to make it impossible to enjoy a particular choice (and that choice is not "inflict violence on others" or "commit suicide" or something of that nature). If the effect were permanent, I think this would be an ethical no-brainer. I suspect that a permanent effect is the goal of those pursuing research on this vaccine, and inflicting that on someone would clearly be unethical. No, that is too mild -- it would be utterly appalling.
Consider the other example (the only other one I can think of) in which adults permanently alter the body of a child to prevent the child from engaging in a behavior that entails some costs, and where they (the adults) do not approve of the kids enjoying the benefits: the mutilation of girls' genitals practiced in some African communities, which you have no doubt read about. Before anyone who cannot follow a logical argument flips out, I will point out that I am not claiming that either the damage done or the loss of benefits from the vaccine is as great as that from genital mutilation. But the motivation and implications are otherwise similar: enjoyment of sex/nicotine by youth is considered evil by those in power for some reason; the benefits of sex/nicotine result in temptation that can be removed by altering someone's body to diminish the benefits; yes, the behaviors that are thus prevented can increase risks of disease, but this does not appear to be the genuine motivation (e.g., because there are other ways to avoid disease that the proponents oppose). I suspect that never in my life have I had a conversation with someone who thinks that genital mutilation is anything other than appalling, so why is there no hint of such ethical concern directed at the nicotine vaccine?Frankly, I think I understated it a bit there because I was writing primarily for a group of young students and not my usual more hardened readers. It is really pretty much impossible for me to see any ethical distinction between the two practices. Presumably "vaccinating" children would only be done with the consent of the parents, but that is also true of genital mutilation as I understand. In both cases, doing whatever it takes to stop the disliked behavior in question is strongly supported in some communities, so no difference there. They are both about limiting the behavior of the adult that the child will become also. And so on. The only tiny bit of light I can see shining between them is the fact that for most (though not all) people the loss of much of the physical pleasure of sex is a larger cost than the loss of the benefits of nicotine -- but that is only a quantitative difference, not a fundamental one.
The survey also found 38% support for "Vaccinating smokers against the effects of nicotine as a cessation method". This would not be as troubling if this were "making a vaccine available to smokers who wanted it", but it is actually phrased in terms of inflicting the vaccine, not merely providing the option. Perhaps most respondents interpreted it as the latter. But if not, it is arguably even worse. Not only do nearly half support it, but there is no hiding behind "we have to protect the children" because it is trying to deprive adults of free choice by maiming them. (You can decide for yourself whether this is even worse depending on your personal trade-offs about issues of freedom, children, etc.)
Finally, notice that "as" I emphasized. Read the original post to see why merely offering a vaccine to interested adults is -- to borrow a favorite phrase of the tobacco controllers -- a wolf in sheep's clothing. The pitch, like the promise that accompanies the marketing of NRT and other stop smoking methods, would inevitably be that if you take the drug you will not want to smoke. The reality is that it would permanently (unlike other drugs) trap someone who wants to smoke or otherwise use nicotine in a body that could not use nicotine.
I wish I could take some consolation in the fact that Australia seems to have the most evil tobacco control people in the world. But I am afraid that the portion of those people who are willing to maim children and adults to control their behavior is not much lower elsewhere.