Research suggests e-cigarettes (those smokeless, cigarette-like nicotine delivery devices sold at convenience stores and elsewhere) can help people quit smoking, or at least dramatically cut back.
So why does the FDA have a hatchet out for e-cigarettes -- first trying to block their sale and distribution as illegal marketing of a drug delivery device -- and when that failed, following it up with a campaign of disinformation and fear tactics, warning overdramatically that e-cigarettes deliver toxic chemicals along with the nicotine?
The irony there, of course, that each puff of an e-cigarette is replacing at least one puff of a real cigarette, with its multitude of cancer- and cardiovascular-disease-causing toxins and carcinogens. The FDA issued a warning that several chemicals in the vapor of e-cigarettes may be "toxic" and "harmful," and could lead kids to get hooked on real cigarettes. But can whatever's in the e-cigarette really be that bad, compared to real cigarettes? Of course not, and independent researchers have verified that e-cigarettes have at most trace, barely-detectable levels of any toxic substances. (Nicotine, of course, is not particularly harmful in and of itself, when used by adults. That's why you can buy it over the counter.)
However, it's highly concerning that use of e-cigarettes among children is on the rise, with 10% of high school seniors in 2012 saying they had tried e-cigarettes. It's a troublesome development, and certainly regulation should be in place to make it harder for children to get their hands on e-cigarettes.
But the truth obscured by the public health hysteria is, there's no real evidence that e-cigarettes are harmful. Smoking cessation experts like William Godshall of Smokefree Pennsylvania believe that e-cigarettes can save lives, saying, “E-cigarettes could replace much or most of cigarette consumption in the U.S. in the next decade." Of course e-cigarettes should be studied further, and regulated to assure purity and safety before the government actually endorses their use. But it seems irrational to try to ban them or scare people desperate to quit smoking away from trying e-cigarettes. It's a strange twist in the story of public health and smoking cessation, with overprotective bureaucrats missing the big picture.
John Tierney, "A Tool to Quit Smoking Has Some Unlikely Critics," New York Times, Nov 7 2011.