Preventing Sin: The Ethics of Vaccines Against Smoking

Hastings Center Report 43 (3):23-33 (2013)
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Advances in immunotherapy pave the way for vaccines that target not only infections, but also unhealthy behaviors such as smoking. A nicotine vaccine that eliminates the pleasure associated with smoking could potentially be used to prevent children from adopting this addictive and dangerous behavior. This paper offers an ethical analysis of such vaccines. We argue that it would be permissible for parents to give their child a nicotine vaccine if the following conditions are met: (1) the vaccine is expected to result in a net benefit to each individual vaccinated, (2) the expected harms from the side effects of the vaccine are lower than the non-voluntary harms of smoking, and (3) there are no less manipulative methods available that are as effective at preventing smoking initiation. Finally, we show how the framework developed here could be used to analyze the ethics of other chemical interventions designed to modify children’s behavior.
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