Public Health

Where's the Fire?

The rush to ban electronic cigarettes is hazardous to smokers' health.


The first time Tom Kiklas saw an electronic cigarette, he recalls, "I couldn't stand it….I thought, 'I don't want to be involved in this.' I'm an anti-smoking kind of guy."

But after Kiklas realized that electronic cigarettes, a.k.a. e-cigarettes, deliver nicotine without tobacco or combustion products, thereby eliminating virtually all of the health hazards associated with smoking, he was comfortable becoming media relations director for inLife, one of the companies that sell the devices in the United States. Unfortunately, many anti-smoking activists and public health officials are stuck in that first stage of visceral antipathy toward anything that resembles cigarettes, an emotional reaction that could prove deadly for smokers.

Last week the House of Representatives approved a bill that authorizes the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products. Lest anyone think that cigarettes will be safer as a result, the bill prohibits manufacturers from mentioning FDA regulation, saying "consumers are likely to be confused and misled" if they know about it.

Meanwhile, supporters of the bill, which the Senate will consider later this year, are demanding that the FDA ban e-cigarettes, a potentially life-saving alternative for smokers, as unauthorized drug delivery devices. Last month Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who brags that he is "one of the Senate's leaders in protecting Americans from the dangers of smoking," urged the FDA to take e-cigarettes off the market "until they are proven safe." The next day, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids applauded Lautenberg's position.

Michael Siegel, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, did not. "This is about as idiotic and irrational an approach as I have ever seen in my 22 years in tobacco control and public health," he wrote on his blog. "A public policy maker who touts himself as being a champion of the public's health as well as some of the leading national health advocacy organizations are demanding that we ban what is clearly a much safer cigarette than those on the market, but that we allow, protect, approve, and institutionalize the really toxic ones."

Introduced by the Chinese company Ruyan in 2004, e-cigarettes produce water vapor containing nicotine and the food additive propylene glycol. The tip of the battery-powered "cigarette" lights up when a user sucks on it, and the vapor looks like smoke, but it dissipates immediately and contains none of the toxins and carcinogens that are generated when tobacco burns.

Given the enormous differences between this vapor and tobacco smoke, the companies that sell e-cigarettes online and from shopping mall kiosks are on firm ground in advertising them as safer alternatives to conventional cigarettes that can be used in places where smoking is banned. The arguments of e-cigarette opponents, by contrast, reek of red herrings.

The critics warn that nicotine is addictive, that it may contribute to cardiovascular problems, and that smokers may use e-cigarettes as way of coping with smoking bans, continuing their habits instead of quitting. All of these objections also apply to the nicotine gum, patches, sprays, and inhalers the FDA has approved as safe and effective smoking cessation tools.

E-cigarettes are less expensive than those products and may be more appealing to smokers looking for an experience that's closer to the real thing. Although they have not been subject to the sort of rigorous testing the FDA demands for new drugs, the drug they contain is not new. It's the same one delivered, in a much dirtier manner, by the cigarettes that the government says kill 400,000 Americans every year.

"The standard for lower-risk products for use by current smokers," argues the American Association of Public Health Physicians, "should be the hazard posed by cigarettes, not a pharmaceutical safety standard." Telling smokers they may not use e-cigarettes until they're approved by the FDA is like telling a floundering swimmer not to climb aboard a raft because it might have a leak.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally syndicated columnist.

© Copyright 2009 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

NEXT: Eye of the Beholder

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  1. This problem being solved by the evil free market would send the entirely wrong signal to the cattle. The cattle must know they were saved from Big Tobacco by our Imperial Compassionate Overlords, and thank God every day for their protection.

  2. Overall this seems like it would be net gain for societal health but this article ignores a few likely outcomes. There would probably be non-smokers who will take up using e-cigarettes for nicotine’s pharmokinetic effects with resulting addiction who might otherwise never smoke. The other question would be second hand nicotine impact. Is all the inhaled vapor absorbed or is a portion exhaled since the e-cigarette would theoretically be permitted in interior spaces, airplanes, etc.?

    Nicotine is less harmful than other smoke constituents but it isn’t harmless.

  3. “Overall this seems like it would be net gain for societal health but this article ignores a few likely outcomes. There would probably be non-smokers who will take up using e-cigarettes for nicotine’s pharmokinetic effects with resulting addiction who might otherwise never smoke.”

    Why is that any of your business?

    1. ok, first of all if you are a non smoker and want to pick up the habit of smoking just beacause a new safer ciggarette happens to come out on the market you might want to follow YOUR OWN enstincts and not smoke….duh…..second of all it seems to me that all these “big people” “high up” would rather us “smokers” just die. More money in their pocket. ok, yes it does need to be FDA approved but come on now, whos to say that H1N1 vaccine or that gardisal vacine were tested appropriatly befoer nurses ran around with needles shootin shit (because who knows what in that) into your body~!??? e cigs have been out since 2004 …..where in that hell is the approval???

  4. Is all the inhaled vapor absorbed or is a portion exhaled since the e-cigarette would theoretically be permitted in interior spaces, airplanes, etc.?

    The e-cigarette is already permitted in my workplace…

  5. But smokers are dirty and immoral. Lung cancer’s too good for them.

  6. [/modern puritan]

  7. Cab,

    Because I frequent locations where these things may be used.

    If 10 people on a plane were sniffing glue and exposing you to the ketone vapors is that none of your business?

  8. I see you were only responding the first point.

    Congress and FDA would argue they have the authority to evaluate the overall “risk” to the public – which could include comparing increases in new nicotine user risk versus decrease in old tobacco smoker risk in determining if a “new” product should be released to the market.

    Personally, I have no problem with e-cigarettes for adults given appropriate second hand precautions as appropriate/warranted.

  9. Sigh, America’s irrational obsession with controling other people’s drug use is sending us down a steady decline.

  10. If 10 people on a plane were sniffing glue and exposing you to the ketone vapors is that none of your business?

    If I boarded a plane where the sniffing of glue was permitted and well known in advance, it would be my own stupid fault for not booking on a non-glue-sniffing airline or flight.

  11. The problem with this is that it is not proven to be safe. Also, it sends the message to kids that smoking is safe.

  12. People exist for and at my pleasure.

  13. Great article Jacob!

    I have been a tobacco user for 15 years and find that now, I don’t need tobacco at all. Just my ecig. I am even working down from nicotine to no-nicotine. Users find overall better lung capacity, stamina, etc.

    The fact that these simply do not have second hand smoke should make all of the non-smokers who truly hate smoking because of it’s offense to non-smokers via second hand smoke, happy.

    For those who are just nicotine prohibitionists, well, sorry. But one who falls into this category should be careful because nicotine is really no worse for the human body than caffeine. Now that the evil carrier of nicotine is being eliminated, tobacco, be careful because the ecig is now no worse than your morning cup of joe. Yep. Next on the docket: Caffeine prohibition.

  14. Last month Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who brags that he is “one of the Senate’s leaders in protecting Americans from the dangers of smoking,” urged the FDA to take e-cigarettes off the market “until they are proven safe.” The next day, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids applauded Lautenberg’s position.

    As H.L Mencken opined, puritanism is “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, might be happy.”

    What a bunch of intolerant and evilly stupid douchebags. If anyone who gives two shits about their fellow human beings donates another fucking dime to the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, or the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids they’re a dumbass. Might as well send a check to Kim Jong-Il to promote freedom.

  15. Hey Tbone,

    Do you barbeque?
    Grill your steaks?
    Use a carpet cleaner?
    Or chlorine bleach?
    Drive a fucking automobile, use power lawn tools?
    Are you connected to the electrical distribution system?

    Stop all of the above and then come talk to me about second hand nicotine.

    Fucking pussy.

  16. Finally someone tackles this issue in the pragmatic way that it should be looked at. As to the argument that non-smokers might take up e-cigarettes and become addicted to nicotine. These products should not be marketed at non-smokers, minors or pregnant women, just like normal cigarettes are not. It should strictly be marketed at smokers who find it hard to quit. Regulate that! Hermann Cannot Stop Smoking

  17. You know what it is up to the individual on what they want. At least with these you are not inhaling arsenic, the gas used in a gas chamber, toilet bowl cleaner, urine, carbon monoxide, tar, and many more chemicals that are in a real cigarette. Where has free will gone and why do all our rights be taken away due to someone not liking this. Well there are a lot of different things that are not liked but still on the market, see where I am coming from. This really upsets me that when a company tries to make something better or improve something for all the people who do it, it is then taken away – and why do you say, well here is my theory with this one – let’s see now the tobacco industry would take a hit and seeing the Government takes regular tobacco, this would cause a decrease in people purchasing regular cigarettes, OH TO BAD FOR THE TABACCO INDUSTRY?. I have been a smoker for over 20 years and feel that this product is very good and has helped me feel better and not be out of breath anymore. I LOVE THIS PRODUCT AND WILL KEEP SUPPORTING IT.

  18. “The problem with this is that it is not proven to be safe. Also, it sends the message to kids that smoking is safe.”

    Skydiving hasn’t been proven to be safe either, John; by your logic, we should ban parachutes, too.

    And Road Runner cartoons clearly send the message to children that anvils are safe.

    MAN I hope you don’t have kids. And if you do, I hope they can afford the extensive therapy they’re gonna need, once they discover that the world in no way resembles the Nerf-isized fantasy you’re clearly salivating over.

  19. OK, this is way out of control. Really if the parents are good parents then they would educate their kids about smoking and about E-Cig’s also. Also if a non-smoker takes this up then that is there fault for it, they are adults and can make up their own minds on that one. If they do take this product up well then they were closet smokers to begin with and could not deal with the fact of being labeled as a smoker (yes this product would be OK for, you closet smokers). People need to stop being so obsessive about things that really don’t pertain to them and stop voicing your opinions on something that does not affect you or something that you don’t have to use!!!!!
    The E-Cig is a great product and should be kept on the market without any problems. I will tell you what this product is safe and you do not have the second hand smoke, the smell, the bad breath, the discoloration on paint, you don’t have that tar in your lungs, etc. There are so many different great benefits to the E-Cig that no one should sit and complain about. Those of you who are complaining about this needs to grow up and stop being a Bitch, that’s all complainers are you need to continually hear yourself complain about something or you are not happy. I have been smoking the E-Cig and my kids even say that they are glad to see me doing this so that they don’t have to smell the regular cigarette smell on me, and my kids also understand that this is still smoking and they know not to do it. They have seen me smoking for years and have never liked it and still don’t but they are glad that I am doing it a better way with the E-Cig.
    The only people who should really bitch about this is the tobacco manufacturers because they are losing money left and right because of this product, plus this is cheaper than buying a pack of cigarette with all of the additional taxes that they have added and are going to keep adding them.
    You know what I say about the E-Cigarette – keep on smoking them you will feel a lot better than inhaling the smoke from a regular cigarette. I can say this because I have been a real smoker for over 20 years and now I am an E-Cigarette smoker now and feel so much better smoking this and not having all of the tar and chemicals in my lungs.. I am a very happy and proud E-Cigarette smoker and will keep on smoking these.. This should be my choice and no one else’s for that fact!!!!!

  20. Hey J sub D,

    Do you want to go back to:

    Knob and tube wiring?
    Asbestos insulation and tile?
    Flammable children’s sleepwear?
    Lead-based paints?
    Cars without air bags?
    Voluntary smallpox, rubella and polia vaccination?

    Return to all of the above and then come talk to me about the liberty we’ve restored.

    Extreme examples are always helpful to dialogue. Fucking cretin.

    1. @Tbone: He wasn’t talking about moving backwards at all, like the FDA would have us do by banning e-cigarettes or like you’re suggesting. He didn’t even mention anything about liberty.

      Fucking cretin indeed…

  21. Just exhaling, no smoking of any type, just breathing and exhaling we produce CO2 which is a harmfull by product and is according to some damaging the climate so breathing in general should be outlawed

  22. How many people start smoking just because it looks cool or they are hanging out with others who smoke? Considering how they make cartridges that contain no nicotine, it should actually be promoted to younger nonsmokers, at least in non-nicotine forms. Nobody has to know you are smoking a non-nicotine e-cig.

  23. Senator Lautenberg has $128,250 reasons to request that the FDA halt e-cigarette sales and protect the pharmaceutical companies and their gum, patches, and pills.

    The smoking gun … if you will …

  24. The anti-smoking movement is showing its true colors in trying to ban this product. The pharmacuetical companies stand to lose a tidy sum when smokers opt for an e-cig instead of their joyless, overpriced, and ineffective gums, patches, etc. The ACS, ALA, and the AHA are heavily funded by these companies. The state and federal governments stand to lose from the e-cig as well, as tax revenues fall from the real cigs, not to mention lost revenue from reduced Master Settlement Agreement payments, which were passed on to smokers in increased cigarette prices.

    This proves that the anti-smoking movement has never been about health, but rather about money and behavior control.

  25. Absolutely Right Tims. They are already making a big deal about it in Canada (picture all the nanny statism of California with colder weather).

    Just think of all the public health workers who will have to find something to do when their entire raison d’etre goes up in smoke, or should I say vapor? They would rather get lobbied by pharma to push those useless nicotine products (gums, patches and so on) that have like a 10% success rate.

    I am really disgusted with the behaviour of government on this. The anti smokers don’t have a leg to stand on. But it doesnt matter, smokers have been so demonized, that they can pretty much get anyway with anything. What a bunch of fucking hypocrites

  26. “Knob and tube wiring?”
    Actually made obsolete by higher quality alternatives becoming cheaper. Electrical codes forbidding it were an afterthought.

    “Asbestos insulation and tile?”
    Overhyped danger.

    “Flammable children’s sleepwear?”
    Overhyped danger. And even fire retardant fabrics still catch on fire.

    “Lead-based paints?”
    Hard to find paints that match the durability of lead based paint. The lead allows it to actually bond with a metal surface much better. The best part is I can still purchase it.

    “Cars without air bags?”
    Completely unecessary. Air bag requirements were pushed for by rent-seeking corporations. Kind of like how the Philip Morris tobacco company has been actively supporting legislation that ban their competitor’s products like electronic cigarettes.

  27. Lest you think these people will be out of work after they finally strip people of the ability to ingest nicotine, don’t forget there’s still caffeine. You know, that horrible drug that stunts growth and costs trillions of dollars every year in coffee breaks, typing errors due to jittery hands, mid-afternoon slouching, and night-time sleeplessness. Once they get rid of that horrible drug they might have another go at alcohol, but failing that there’s always other dangerous chemicals, like the amino acid l-tryptophan which sleep addicts reportedly use in drug cocktails to induce unnatural sleep cycles. Never mind that it’s an essential ingredient for life, we’ll find a way around that after we ban it 🙂 Meanwhile they’ll make sure we all get our ritalin and prozac so we can properly suppress these unnatural urges to think and choose things, and worse yet take risks.

  28. It is the devil himself that is behind all of the opposition to e-cigs (or as I like to call them, Personal Vaporizers). Any of you “puritans” out there that have a problem with e-cigs, my guess is it is because it will somehow cut into your financial bottom line, not because you give a crap about anyones health. I assume that you are employed by some company or entity that makes more money with people smoking evil tobacco than with people letting it go for something cleaner and less impactful on the general public. Please, all of you “Puritans” need to crawl back to the pit of hell from which you were spawned, and leave the rest of the good people out there alone!!!

  29. Tbone:
    All that is exhaled is the most minute amount of water vapor. It dissipates almost instantaneously with no odor. I smoked it in an elevator, standing in the back behind 4 other people, nobody had any idea that I was smoking. IT IS HARMLESS TO ANYONE NOT ACTIVELY SMOKING IT.

  30. It’s time to face the facts. You anti smoking folks are barking up the wrong tree. The e cig does not burn anything, uses no tobacco, or tobacco products. Some of the food you consume contains nicotine. Should we ban all food products that contain nicotine? The air we all breath contains more vile products and by-products than any cigarette ever could. Anti smoking groups need to jump on a different ban, one that will give you the satisfaction you seek. Smokers will continue to smoke even though the prices keep going up thanks to you folks. Smoking will stay and vaping will stay. I have been smoke free for the last 9 months thanks to the e cig. The e cig contains 4 ingredients all deemed safe by the fda. Tobacco contains 4,000 ingredients all deemed unsafe by the fda. Which one would you rather me use?

  31. I spent almost $90.00 to get an e-cig set. Not many 15 year olds are going to spend that kind of money so they can start smoking. They will however, pay the homeless guy at the corner 2 bucks to buy a $5.00 pack of smokes to look cool in front of their buddies. E-Cigs rock! I lurv’em

  32. Because I frequent locations where these things may be used.

    If 10 people on a plane were sniffing glue and exposing you to the ketone vapors is that none of your business?

    But “these things” don’t give off *any* smoke at all. People who use them aren’t exposing you to jack.

    So let’s try again: Why is it any of your business?

  33. There would probably be non-smokers who will take up using e-cigarettes for nicotine’s pharmokinetic effects with resulting addiction who might otherwise never smoke.

    So who gives a rat’s ass? Nicotine, unless consumed in huge quantities, or unless taken with all the tar and other crap found in tobacco, is about as dangerous as caffeine (which, by the way, is also pretty addictive–pardon me while I go get another mug of joe).

  34. I fixed it,I burn 0 nicotine in mine,so no problem right.I promise all the other vaporizer users will do the same from now on,there you all can sleep fine now.Now lets get those @#$% heads who are using the approved nicotine inhalers now that we know that they insist on exhaling.Oh yeah and they kind of resemble a cigarette,so it may lure kids to start or maybe non smokers will take them up because they are sold at any department store and are way cheaper than an “e-cig” or whatever you all call my vaporizer.So is the gum,it is just too readily available to the non smokers,i mean what a temptation and so cheap,It’s not much cheaper than patches so i am scared now for the poor kids and the non smokers who may be after the nicotine.We had better remove all those things and stick with the $100 vaporizers,that should keep the kids and those pesky non smokers at bay.Whew thank god for the price of these things,it will save them all.

  35. What hypocrits are politicians are!

    On the one hand they allow the more dangerous Hookah smoking/toking, which is legalized everywhere!, and it is more dangerous, because it not only uses fire, but also coal inhaling fumes!!!

    E-cigs on the other hand are helping millions to quit smoking, or at least turn away from real tobacco products. E-cigs use no fire, and
    do not contain tar and all the other chemicals in them.

    Politicians tell everyone to quit smoking, yet turn around and wish to ban e-cigs? Why? because in truth, they want smoking tax payers to keep smoking tobacco, and pay the huge taxes (billions annually) for their smoking habit!

    Someone should send Obama (the struggling to quit smoking President) an e cig, and let him decide!

  36. You are all %^&@’d
    e-smokes saved my life!!!!!!!!!!

  37. I had been smoking for 39 years , since I was eleven years old. For about the first twenty years I saw no adverse effects on my health but in the last five years in particular I was virtually unable to climb the stairs.

    Despite the harm to my health and the financial burden of smoking I had never been able to quit for even one day. Not even during my pregnancy. I thought that I would die smoking.

    Two weeks ago I found a white patch on my gum. I asked my twelve year old to look at it. He said ‘Mum your gum looks dead’.
    I thought ‘Oh brilliant ,here we go, mouth cancer ‘
    I immediately stopped smoking. I still have the cigarettes untouched two weeks later.
    I all of a sudden had the will power to do what I had failed to do with Allan Carr , Patches, nicorette inhalers, gum.
    I had bought a ‘Silver Bullet’ vaping device the month before and had only used it as a gimmick in the pub. Now it came into its own.
    For the first few days the unit hardly left my side. I drove with it in my lap and took it to the loo.
    Every time I got the urge to smoke I would puff until the terror subsided. And it was terror and angst and addiction anger. The vaping unit calmed me and allowed me to carry on with my day until the next addiction attack.
    Two weeks later I feel amazing. I can run up the stairs at home for the first time in years. I can actually taste my food without slathering it in salt and I can smell for the first time since I was a child. ( I never knew people smelt so BAD!). My skin looks moist and pink. The dark circles under my eyes are nearly gone and the stains on my teeth are fading.
    My hair doesn’t smell, my son wants to cuddle me and I have saved nearly ninety pounds on tobacco.
    I have not put on any weight since quitting and I no longer carry the bullet around everywhere with me. I no longer reach for it with my first cup of tea. Nor do I need it immediately after eating ( as I did with cigarettes)
    I would not have been able to do any of this without the liquid nicotine.
    Now I learn that UK Gov. are trying to ban this product that has changed my life.
    In the light of the radical benefits of this quitting method I strongly suggest that we licence existing products as a matter of urgency. I will not return to smoking if they ban the sale of these products , but I will definitely source illegal alternatives via the internet until my addiction is totally dealt with.

    Please do not follow other banning countries in this folly. It must be recognised that those who are shouting loudest to ban the use of these liquid nicotines stand to benefit by my addiction to return to smoking or by the financial gain they make by selling me quitting pharmaceuticals.
    I am happy to talk further about this with you or anyone who has a genuine interest in helping people rid themselves of the shackles of smoking.

  38. Ask any Government Agency if E-Cigs are a hazzard to anyone, and you’ll hear “We don’t know.”

    If you find them hazzardous, *then* give me a call. “We don’t know” just doesn’t cut it.

  39. To the no smoking no ecig nazis. maybe i am annoyed by the fumes coming from your glass of beer, whisky ect. Shall we ban that too? the fda and all the anti freedom nazis should really make an appointment to see Dr Jack Kevorkian.

  40. Thanks to Blu cig coupons
    I was able to quit smoking for good. Don’t get me wrong it still took a lot of will power but the
    Blu cig coupons really helped with the cravings.

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