Ethics of tobacco harm reduction from a liberal perspective

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Mixed evidence on the possible harms, benefits and usage patterns of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS, or ‘e-cigarettes’), has led to vigorous and ongoing debates on the issue. The ethical trade-off often represented is that, though smokers should be permitted access to ENDS as a less harmful alternative to smoking, this comes at the expense of non-smokers and children who may experiment with ENDS, become addicted to them, or experience health issues from long-term exposure to passive ENDS vapour. Lacking from many debates is a balanced analysis based on sound ethical reasoning, so this paper aims to examine the issue from a liberal perspective. More specifically, focus is on how ENDS policy can help to promote freedom in a broader sense, with ‘freedom’ considered as originating from having options and the necessary information and ability to autonomously choose between these options.

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