E-Cigarette Bans Are Absurd

Despite the best efforts of anti-smoking advocates to educate, tax, and ban tobacco users out of their habit, millions of people continue to smoke and 400,000 of them die each year in the U.S. as a result. Such statistics may lead you to think that any safe smoking alternative would be cheered by public health advocates — and you'd be wrong. Enter e-cigarettes ( or “e-cigs”).

These amazing little devices mimic the look, feel and taste of traditional cigarettes, and deliver the dose of nicotine a smoker craves without most of the 10,000 chemicals contained within cigarettes. That means we have a way to save thousands of lives and the anti-smoking lobby is standing in the way without a shred of evidence in support.

According to the Boston Globe, 10 communities in Massachusetts have banned the smoking alternatives in workplaces, and a number of medical researchers have come out against e-cigs. Dr. Paula Johnson, a cardiologist and head of Boston's Public Health Commission called e-cigs devices that deliver a “toxic, addictive substance.” Authorities in Australia, where e-cigs are illegal, have also criticized their use because they don't help smokers quit nicotine and allegedly pose “a serious health risk.”

You'd think smart people using authoritative language would have evidence to back up their claims, but they don't in this case. E-cigs do indeed deliver nicotine, but without the cornucopia of chemicals contained in traditional cigarettes, nicotine isn't the monster it's made out to be. Yes, as Johnson claims, it is toxic. But overdose through cigarette smoke is unlikely, according to the University of Utah's genetics department. An e-cig user would need multiple nicotine sources to do any serious harm to their health in this regard.

But do the electronic devices pose a health risk in some other way? That's also unlikely. The first clinical trial that looked at e-cigs, published in BMC Public Health, concluded that “the e-Cigarette can help smokers to remain abstinent or reduce their cigarette consumption. By replacing tobacco cigarettes, the e-cigarette can only save lives. Here we show for the first time that e-Cigarettes can substantially decrease cigarette consumption without causing significant side effects in smokers not intending to quit.”

The FDA's initial analysis two years ago of 18 e-cig cartridges found that the devices contain far fewer “tobacco specific nitrosamines and tobacco specific impurities” and “… at very low levels.” To give you a standard to measure this by, the chemicals found in e-cigs are comparable to those found in approved smoking cessation products, like nicotine gum and patches. Unless the FDA and other critics are about to call for bans on other smoking cessation products, what we have is a textbook example of hypocrisy.

But perhaps the hollowest argument leveled at e-cigs, as voiced by experts in Australia, is precisely what makes the devices so innovative: they're similar to the real thing. “Because e-cigarettes mimics [sic] smoking in both design and use, the ACT Health Directorate does not support [their use].'' The technically advanced rebuttal to this assertion goes like this: so what? If the goal is to prevent diseases and deaths associated with tobacco consumption, who cares if the alternatives emulate cigarettes? What's more, the evidence indicates that this is what makes e-cigs so effective. Part of breaking the addiction is addressing the behavioral aspect, the actual act of smoking a cigarette. In e-cigs we have an effective replacement.

So, if public health advocates are going to ignore the personal choice question — what and if people smoke is nobody's business but their own, after all – they need good science to justify their assault on e-cigs. The research so far reveals the exact opposite; what we have is a product that helps smokers drop their deadly habit and live healthier lives. Everybody should keep that in mind as this debate progresses.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Cameron English

I cover public health, nutrition and science education for PolicyMic. I also write critical thinking exercises for high school science textbooks. My previous work includes freelance writing and editing for Science 2.0. I've never been paid by Monsanto for my opinions, though that would be awesome.

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