Public Health Ethics
Volume 6 Issue 2 July 2013
Enhancing Children against Unhealthy Behaviors—An Ethical and Policy Assessment of Using a Nicotine Vaccine
Ori Lev, Benjamin S. Wilfond, and Colleen M. McBride
Public Health Ethics (2013) 6 (2): 197-206 doi:10.1093/phe/pht006
Health behaviors such as tobacco use contribute significantly to poor health. It is widely recognized that efforts to prevent poor health outcomes should begin in early childhood. Biomedical enhancements, such as a nicotine vaccine, are now emerging and have potential to be used for primary prevention of common diseases. In anticipation of such enhancements, it is important that we begin to consider the ethical and policy appropriateness of their use with children. The main ethical concerns raised by enhancing children relate to their impact on children’s well-being and autonomy. These concerns are significant, however they do not appear to apply in the case of the nicotine vaccine; indeed the vaccine could even further these goals for children. Nevertheless, concerns about broadly applying this enhancement may be more challenging. The vaccine may be less cost-effective than alternative public efforts to prevent tobacco use, utilizing it could distract from addressing the foundational causes of smoking and it might not be publically acceptable. Empirical research about these concerns is needed to ascertain their likelihood and impact as well as how they could be minimized. This research could help determine whether behavior-related enhancements hold promise for improving children’s health.