The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is expected to decide soon whether to uphold or overturn a federal judge's preliminary injunction barring the FDA from seizing electronic cigarettes as an "unapproved drug-device combination." Over at AOL News today, I debate the FDA's attempt to ban e-cigarettes with Harvard Medical School professor Jonathan Winickoff. He does not question my argument that smokers can dramatically reduce their health risks by switching to e-cigarettes, which deliver nicotine in a propylene glycol vapor without burning tobacco (or anything else). Instead Winickoff argues that e-cigarettes are a threat to the nation's youth, enticing them with "fruit and candy flavors" into a nicotine habit that may ultimately lead to smoking. I do not want to say categorically that no kid in America has ever decided to experiment with nicotine by shelling out $80 for an e-cigarette starter kit and $20 for each ten-pack of cartridges instead of buying a pack of cigarettes for $4.50. But I suspect that sort of thing does not happen very often. More to the point, when conventional cigarettes are readily available to minors, it is hard to see how introducing a much less hazardous alternative will hurt them.
In any event, the logical response to Winickoff's concerns is to impose age restrictions on e-cigarette sales, which most distributors already do. In his view, however, such precautions only make the product more attractive to underage consumers. "The advertising warning that 'this product is for adults only' appears tailor-made to appeal to kids," he writes. By that logic, e-cigarette distributors who want to prevent underage consumption of their product should pass it out for free in schoolyards and tell kids it's good for them. But I suspect Winickoff would object to that strategy as well.