I first learned about e-cigarettes from Reason’s coverage of the FDA’s rush to ban them, and of the rightful criticism of that intent from the American Association of Public Health Physicians. Without smoke (e-cigs are miniature vaporizers), nicotine use is likely to be many magnitudes less harmful to the body.
The hope is that e-cig use wouldn’t be more harmful than downing a few espressos, but the research to confirm that absolutely needs to be done. In the meantime, we should allow adult smokers to try them. Taking them off the market would be ironic and cruel to today’s smokers and their families, who are absolutely certain that their–now FDA approved–smoking habit is leading them to an early grave.
We should also carefully regulate e-cigs, answering some hard questions. Should we restrict use to places where smoking is allowed? I’m not so sure that’s wise. An e-cig user is obviously taking an expensive step to reduce the harm to herself and others; should we punish her and force her to be around smoke, or use tolerance of e-cigs to encourage other smokers to also switch?
If a bit of vaporized nicotine turns out to be completely benign to bystanders, the public should concede that e-cig use just isn’t smoking (and we should rename it). We coffee and soda addicts enjoy the privilege (burden) of being able to catch our fix nearly anywhere, so we should consider being more accommodating for the sake of public health. We’re often talking about our parents and relatives.
Now it looks like Philip Morris may buy exclusive rights to e-cigs in the U.S. If their intent is to kill e-cigs, it would be consistent with their evil. On the other hand, PM would likely have the resources to get e-cigs through FDA approval, so literally the lives of many nicotine addicts could be saved if we allow PM to use its marketing muscle to turn smokers into e-cig users. Do we hate Philip Morris more than we care for the well-being of smokers?
Update: Great info on this topic at TobaccoHarmReduction.org, run by Dr. Carl Phillips, Associate Professor in the University of Alberta Department of Public Health Sciences.
Groups that are truly anti-smoking should embrace any alternative, but those that are more interested in making life difficult for smokers or nicotine users do not like these products because they could make nicotine users more comfortable.
One of the site’s headings: “Smokers have more choices than just quitting or dying.” Can’t agree more.