Monday, April 28, 2014

April 28, 2014

One Vice for Another

If you’ve had your eyes open for the last few months, you’ve probably seen some sort of advertisement or mention of electronic cigarettes, the wonderful, sexy, perfect alternative to traditional cigarette smoking. “E-cigarettes” supposedly give “vapers,” as they’re called instead of smokers, all the pleasure of nicotine without harmful tobacco or icky smoke. Because of this, e-cigarettes have managed thus far to sidestep the Clean Air act and FDA censure – that is, until recently. Finally, the FDA has begun to cast a more critical eye on electronic cigarettes.

I really don’t like cigarettes, and when electronic cigarettes burst on the market, I was leery. So, prompted by a school project, I did some research, and found my gut instinct could be backed up with fact. While e-cigs do cut out the danger of tobacco and tobacco smoke, they still contain nicotine, which is in itself still a carcinogenic substance, as well as a variety of other dubious chemicals like propylene glycol and formaldehyde. And e-cigarettes are not a smoking cessation device, as some would say. An e-cig might satisfy a smoker’s nicotine craving, but it does nothing to lesson the addiction. A patch would slowly wean the smoker off nicotine but an e-cig maintains the same level of nicotine. Even Len Horowitz, Internist and Pulmonologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, backed me up.

“I don’t think it would be successful [as a method of quitting smoking],” Horovitz told me. “The spike in nicotine is just like regular smoking. In order to go from vaping to quitting, they would have to find a psychoactive pattern. Smoking to vaping to cold turkey won’t happen.”

Another thing Horovitz found disturbing was the amount of young people who use electronic cigarettes, which is what has caused alarm for the FDA. More than 10% of high school students have tried vaping, according to the CDC, and Horovitz said that’s especially dangerous.

“Most dangerous is access to teens. It could become a gateway to smoking, from e-cigarettes to cigarettes,” he said. “Nicotine addiction in teens 13 to 17 is the most hardcore group of addicts. They might never give it up.”

It certainly doesn’t help that e-cigarettes come in fun flavors like “Cherry Crush” and “Vivid Vanilla,” and decorative cartridges like these:

Electronic cigarettes haven’t been popular long enough for us to know for sure what long-term effects they might have, but with this kind of information, I would be wary of them.

- Elizabeth Coluccio

Piketty on Capitalism

Thomas Piketty seems like the next big economics superstar. In his recent book, Capital in the 21st Century (published in September 2013 in French and recently released in English), Piketty models how capital has developed as the main source of unregulated power in the world, and how this development, if left unchecked, will destroy the system of free markets. He argues that the circulation of capital causes an increase in wealth inequality exponentially, an idea that directly opposes the model of the “trickle-down” system which some people seem to be holding dearly to.

In the recent economic conference at the institute of New Economic Thinking, Piketty’s book was continually mentioned. The book gives an expansive look at the past two centuries and models the growth of capital and its circulation, offering some very striking conclusions. Many of his arguments may seem familiar—he addresses issues of large inheritances, the overpayment of high management, and the ways in which lack of regulation have reinforced power into capital—but seeing all of these issues (which we, as a society have wanted to address since OWS and the Tea-Party) represented in a methodologically sound way is a different shift in the discourse, which seems to systematize economic “practicality” on the side of the right.

Yep, that's a CUNY Grad Center banner in the background!
Rather than being a field of economic mobility, Piketty’s data supports that in the current system, entrepreneurship is largely not available as a means of mobility. The successes we see are largely exceptions, and when we address how the majority of people gain access to capital—through wages, it becomes clear that any capital equality between high and low-earners is near impossible. In the UK, while the top 1% pay a third of income tax, it is not the main base of tax revenue. Instead, the VAT is. In the US, people have proposed leaning more heavily on consumption taxes, arguing that it is unfair to make people who don’t consume bear the burdens of consumers. But this is ridiculous. Of all forms of taxes, value-added and sales taxes are the most damaging for poor and lower-income households, as it cuts into savings more deeply, even for everyday commodities.

The proposals to adjust for the vast problems facing our current capitalism are grand: Piketty argues for large property, inheritance, patent, and stock taxes, and for these taxes to be internationally implemented, making tax evasion more difficult. It is hard to see how such a system could be integrated, but the fact that such an argument is being made in the mainstream seems to me to already be a huge improvement to the marginalization of discourses about wealth disparity. Perhaps these conclusions will actually lead to sustained movements against the distributions in our current capitalist system.

-Isabel Stern

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