Is Prevention Better than Cure? A Re-evaluation of the Potential Use of Nicotine Conjugate Vaccine in Children

Public Health Ethics 4 (2):121-128 (2011)
Despite worldwide efforts to reduce the consumption of tobacco, legislative and educational measures have failed to eradicate the practice of cigarette smoking. Indeed, in many populations, particularly in the developing world, its prevalence is increasing. Consequently were alternative strategies to become available to address the problem, they would deserve serious consideration. One potential strategy which may become a real possibility in the future might be the vaccination of children against the pleasurable effects of nicotine. Were such a vaccine to become available, children who had been inoculated would be less likely to start smoking, and even if they did, would be able to quit more easily. However, as Hasman and Holm discussed, vaccinating against a behavior rather than a disease is not ethically unproblematic, and they concluded that inoculation of infants and young children with a permanently effective nicotine conjugate vaccine should not take place, as it robbed children of the right to a smoking future. In this article, I will re-evaluate some of their arguments, and will conclude that in fact the private and public goods that inoculation with a ‘smoking vaccine’ would produce, outweigh the possible impingements on future autonomy that may result from such vaccination programme
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DOI 10.1093/phe/phr018
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