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Vendredi, 16 Décembre 2011 12:30

Mr. Know-It-All on E-Cigarettes, Opt-Out Etiquette, Old Crimes

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Illustration: Christoph Niemann

My brother just switched from cigarettes to an e-cigarette that uses liquid nicotine. He claims his new habit is no worse than drinking two cups of coffee a day. Really?

There is an abundance of hard science showing that smoking cigarettes is deadly. But cut out the tobacco and the additives, and e-cigarettes are demonstrably less harmful than Camels. Ordinary smokes infamously contain a bevy of nasty ingredients—a little carcinogenic vinyl chloride or toxic arsenic, anyone?—whereas e-cigs employ relatively simple solutions of propylene glycol and nicotine. (Yes, those mixtures contain impurities, including possible carcinogens, but the amounts are minuscule compared with normal cigarettes.) Besides being powerfully addictive, nicotine itself is a stimulant, so your brother’s comparison to coffee is actually pretty accurate.

So e-cigarettes aren’t as bad as their conventional counterparts. But there haven’t yet been any studies to ascertain their long-term health effects. Your brother may feel comfortable assuming that e-cigs are relatively harmless, but over time, research has revealed unanticipated health risks associated with tobacco products. “People used to think that light cigarettes were less dangerous, and boy did we get fooled on that one,” says Thomas Eissenberg, a psychology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who has studied e-cigarettes.

The good news is that, thanks to thousands of guinea pigs like your brother, we should have decent data on e-cigarette safety in the next 15 to 20 years. If his health is less than tip-top by then, perhaps President Miley Cyrus will consider some stringent regulations.

I use an opt-in mailing list to notify customers about my store’s special deals. If someone unsubscribes, is it creepy for me to email them and politely ask why they left?

The fact that you’re being really creepy shouldn’t be your main concern here. It’s simple: What you’re proposing is actually against the law. The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 clearly states that once someone opts out of a list, you can contact them only with essential emails about their purchases or account status. No matter how friendly your inquiry, you risk federal penalties if you press the Send button.

Of course, you’re free to track down that customer on Facebook or Twitter, but that’s definitely not going to do anything to curb your budding reputation as a stalker. “Ask your spouse if it’s weird before you contact the customer,” suggests Simms Jenkins, author of The Truth About Email Marketing. “They’ll know and shoot straight.” If the idea gives your better half the willies, let the customer go—the last thing you want is for your tweet to land on a blog where it will be mercilessly mocked as invasive and desperate.

When I was 15, I pleaded guilty to stealing a car. Will that conviction show up if someone uses an online background-check service to research me?

And to think kids today are content just playing Grand Theft Auto. Lazy bastards. Luckily for those of us who come from a generation with gumption, reputable background checkers generally avoid dredging up evidence of youthful idiocy. Industry titan LexisNexis, for example, states that it’s “standard operating procedure not to report criminal records that indicate an individual was tried in juvenile court [or] sentenced as a juvenile.” But be aware that this policy is entirely a goodness-of-our-hearts sort of thing. Unless you’re vigilant about protecting your juvenile record, an aggressive checker is technically free to tell its clients about your joyride.

What you really need to do is request that your record be sealed. Oh, you assumed it was? Sealing statutes vary from state to state, and your record could be as vulnerable to public viewing as any library book. As long as you’ve had no further run-ins with the law, a court is likely to grant your request to seal. (Keep in mind, though, that sealing doesn’t make your record magically disappear—the government can still peek.)

There’s a slim chance that some tough-yet-lazy background-check firm will neglect to update its database to reflect the sealing, much as credit-reporting bureaus sometimes fail to note when debts have been repaid. But if your brief turn as an aspiring car thief does come to light, try to remember that it’s not the end of the world. Everyone knows from personal experience that the 15-year-old brain is prone to making stupendously awful decisions; don’t get Mr. Know-It-All started on the pellet gun incident.

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