Recently, Examiner.com (Seattle) reported that the King County health department in Washington State wants to ban “e-cigs” — cigarette lookalikes that do not create smoke but rather “deliver a vaporized dose of flavored liquid containing nicotine to the user.” While the jury is still out over any health risks associated with the faux buds, Bud Nicola of the King County health board does not like them for other reasons. As the Examiner reports: “People smoke them in establishments, and other patrons think they’re smoking. That makes it much more likely others will think it’s okay and start smoking themselves.” The artifice of these devices is their downfall.
Surprisingly, Nicola’s reasoning is exactly that of the Jewish concept of marit ayin, in which one refrains from certain permissible behaviors for fear that an onlooker might learn the wrong lesson from what he sees. Maimonides’ famous example describes a man who is caught in the rain on the Sabbath. Once home, he would wish to lay out his clothes to dry, but by doing so another person might think he had done his laundry and reasonably think that’s OK to wash clothes on Shabbat. While a form of teaching by example, marit ayin sets up religious and social constraints on behavior for a particular group. Extending its reasoning to the American culture suggests that while smoking is dangerous, appearing to smoke is even worse! Suspicion outweighs the “crime.”