No Smoke, Yet Ire

Arbitrary restrictions on e-cigarettes are hazardous to smokers' health.


Sales of electronic cigarettes have risen dramatically in recent years. Whether you see that development as an opportunity or a threat depends on whether you view the matter rationally or through a fog of prejudice that makes anything resembling a cigarette look sinister, regardless of the risks it actually poses.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to propose regulations for e-cigarettes by the end of this month. If unreasoning fear carries the day, those regulations will restrict information about and access to a potentially lifesaving product, thereby increasing smoking-related illness and death in the name of public health and consumer protection.

A few years ago, ignoring that danger, the FDA sought to ban e-cigarettes as unapproved pharmaceutical products. After that effort was blocked by a federal judge and an appeals court, the agency announced that it would instead regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products.

That approach was blessed by the courts, which noted that the nicotine in e-cigarettes is derived from tobacco. But the "tobacco product" label does not really fit either, since e-cigarettes do not contain any tobacco, delivering nicotine in a propylene glycol vapor instead of burning dried vegetable matter.

That difference is crucial for smokers contemplating a switch to vaping, because it means they can avoid the myriad toxins and carcinogens generated by tobacco combustion, thereby dramatically reducing the health hazards they face. There is no serious scientific dispute on this point, although people who should know better often pretend otherwise.

For instance, Maria Azzarelli, coordinator of the Southern Nevada Health District's tobacco control program, recently told the Las Vegas Sun "no one can say right now whether e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative to cigarettes." Really? No one can say whether inhaling vapor containing nicotine, flavoring, and propylene glycol, which the FDA has approved as an ingredient in food and medicine, is safer than inhaling smoke?

Even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recently cited increased consumption of e-cigarettes while urging the FDA to regulate them, concedes "e-cigarettes appear to have far fewer of the toxins found in smoke compared to traditional cigarettes." Boston University public health professor Michael Siegel, who supports vaping as a harm-reducing alternative to smoking, notes that "we actually have a much better idea what is in electronic cigarette vapor than what is in tobacco smoke."

So why the strange resistance to e-cigarettes, which contain no tobacco and generate no smoke, among people concerned about the health hazards of tobacco and smoking? Like other activists and some politicians, Azzarelli claims to be worried that e-cigarettes will make the conventional variety seem glamorous again. "We're very concerned that what [was] becoming passé—smoking—is now coming back," she says.

In other words, Azzarelli and her fellow activists worry that a product whose main selling point is avoiding the scary hazards and offensive stench of smoking somehow will make smoking more appealing. That fear seems implausible, to say the least, and there is no evidence to support it.

E-cigarette alarmists like to cite CDC survey data indicating that "e-cigarette use among students doubled in the last year," as 40 state attorneys general noted last month in a letter to the FDA. But that increase was in the number of students reporting any use in the previous month, which may reflect nothing more than experimentation.

The survey provides no evidence that such experimentation leads to smoking. To the contrary, as Siegel points out, nine out of 10 teenagers who tried e-cigarettes were already smokers, meaning the trend that the attorneys general consider a public health emergency may instead portend successful harm reduction. Likewise with adults: Survey data indicate that e-cigarette use is overwhelmingly concentrated among current and former smokers.

It's in the shift from the former category to the latter that the disease-reducing potential of e-cigarettes lies. Impeding that transition by imposing arbitrary restrictions on e-cigarette advertising, sales, and flavors would be a literally fatal error.

NEXT: Brickbat: Your Daughter Is So Fat

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  1. There you go jeeves, I like the sound of that.


    1. You're not even trying anymore. Son, I am disappoint.

    2. "There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, 'Do trousers matter?'"
      "The mood will pass, sir."

      1. Trousers are made from cotton or wool which puts them within the purview of the Department of Agriculture, I believe. I'm sure there is some royal trouser afficionado here that can correct me if I'm wrong.

      2. +1 suspicion of salad

  2. Precautionary Principle in action.

    "Prove e-cigarettes aren't just as bad as the real thing! Prove it! La la la la what did you say? I can't hear you! La la la la! Prove it! La la la la! You can't prove it! What? I can't hear you! La la la la! I win!"

    1. OMG! You nailed it!

    2. you mean like this paper?

      Tobacco Advisory Group of the Royal College of Physicians. Harm Reduction in Nicotine Addiction: Helping People Who Can't Quit. Royal College of Physicians of London. October 2007.

      "This RCP report makes the case for harm reduction strategies to protect smokers. The report demonstrates that smokers smoke predominantly for nicotine, that nicotine itself is not especially hazardous, and that if nicotine could be provided in a form that is acceptable and effective as a cigarette substitute, millions of lives could be saved. The report also argues that the regulatory systems that currently govern nicotine products in most countries, including the UK, actively discourage the development, marketing and promotion of significantly safer nicotine products to smokers."


      or this one:

      Goniewicz ML, Gawron M, Peng M, et al. Electronic cigarettes deliver similar levels of nicotine and reduce
      exposure to combustion toxicants after switching from tobacco cigarettes. Society for Research on Nicotineand Tobacco 18th Annual Meeting. Houston, Texas, USA, 2012. Page 40:

  3. That approach was blessed by the courts, which noted that the nicotine in e-cigarettes is derived from tobacco.

    And tobacco is grown in soil, which is derived from rocks. Therefore e-cigs should be regulated as *mineral* products.

    1. I would go for the "organic" angle.

    2. Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?

  4. My first thought on seeing e-cigs being regulated into the dirt is: the tobacco companies don't make e-cigs, do they? Aren't e-cigs competition to the tobacco companies which have a monopoly on the smoking industry - which pays far more in taxes than they could ever hope to keep for themselves and therefore the government has a vested interest in seeing remain highly profitable? How much have the e-cig companies given in campaign contributions compared to RJR or Philip Morris?

    1. Couldn't possibly be because of that. We all know regulators have our best interests in mind.

    2. If tobacco companies had all the power that is imagined of them, approved student smoking areas in high schools would still be around. So would smoking areas for adults too.

      1. But the government has a major financial incentive to keep the tobacco companies in business. It practically cartelized them in exchange for "penalty" payments. If the companies are out-competed and driven out of business, no delicious payments.

        1. How does preventing teenagers from smoking at any school, government or not, further that goal?

          How does preventing business owners from allowing smoking further that goal?

          Seems like a new theory is needed. Wait, there is already a theory out there. The regulating loving left found a way to tell people what to do and make money off of it too without so much as a hat tip to the people they are regulating.

      2. Good point. But they are making a comeback, and if they petition to ban online sales, they do away with their main competition. A comeback, if you will. This is the first time in the history of trying to quit smoking, that smokers actually have. Even falling off the wagon sales are minimal.
        Smoke, BP product to quit, smoke, wash, rinse, repeat is a thing of the past. Hallelujah!!! Celebrate, dance, breathe.

    3. One of two main reasons E-cigs are coming under fire is because Pharmaceutical Companies DON'T make them. The original E-cig companies were stand alone startups. Most of those -the reputable ones - have been purchased by Tobacco Companies to grow them because they saw this as the future of smoking. Other Tobacco Companies have started their own lines.

      Phamaceutical Companies have pumped lots of money into fighting tobacco use (via taxes, bans and stigmatization) over the last decade to boost their stop-smoking drugs and they ARE pumping lots of money into fighting e-cig use for the same reason.

      The other reason, of course, is that some neurotic fucks are so hateful of smoking that they can't stand something that looks like smoking, no matter how safe or safer it is.

      I've said it before and I'll say it again: This whole fight against E-cigs is the definitive proof that "antismoking" has nothing to do with health and everything to do with neurotic hatred and pharma profits.

  5. Safer, schmafer. Look, we didn't spend billions to stigmatize smoking just so e-cigarettes could come along and ruin it. They don't smell bad! They may not even cause cancer! This is a disaster.

    1. Obviously the solution is to require additives that make the e-cigs smell bad and cause cancer.

      1. There might still be some people alive who were regulating margarine in a similar manner.

        1. You've got that backwards, although they did regulate margarine somewhat since some felt it was misleading people into thinking it was like butter, i.e. healthy and fit for human consumption what it wasn't.
          Some margarines used to be made up of 50% synthetic fats before they realized how unnatural synthetic trans fats were. Not to fear! now synthetic and natural trans fats are heavily regulated to the point where butter might get banned in New York.
          Even now vegetable oils can't become solid in normal temperatures so they have to add small amounts of hydrogenated fat and "hide" it by controling portion sizes & rounding it down. Margarine has too much polyunsaturated fats that tend to oxidize rapidly and drain your anti-oxidant reserves if you eat too much of it. (Some oils like canola and soy are already oxidized/rancid in manufacturing then deodorized because the seeds need to be heated to reduce toxins to acceptable levels)

    2. Shades of that energy thread from last night. As you observe and mock, the left is formulating their next hypocrisy.

  6. I really don't get E-Cigs. Yes, I know why people use them: you can use them in no smoking areas (at least that's what I've seen), less tonxins, no fire, no actual smoke...

    Which is why I don't get the draw. To me it would be like offering a weird, synthetic version of bourbon: It's not actually bourbon, you see. It's simply plain water with a brownish coloring that has no actual alcohol, but it has some chemicals in it that will simulate the effect of drinking actual bourbon. AND YOU CAN BUY IT IN DRY COUNTIES!

    That could be a draw I guess for some. But at that point, why bother? I don't drink bourbon for the tipsy effect. It's because I like actual bourbon.

    I'm a pipe smoker myself. The smoke, the fire in the bowl, the match/tamp/match routine all plays into the enjoyment of it. For me it would be like swapping out my briar for a PVC tube that blows bubbles. Why bother at that point? I guess if you're just doing it for the nicotine hit... well ok, knock yourself, you should be free to do that.

    1. Many e-cigs really do feel like cigarettes. And they provide the exact same high. People who have tried and failed to quit smoking because they were getting unhealthy swear by e-cigs.

      I don't think pipe smoking is at all comparable to cigarette smoking.

      1. I guess it's because they have two different ends when it comes to ecigs/pipes. If you're trying to quit, or just doing it to get the nicotine high, then I guess e-cigs are the way to go.

        1. It also satisfies the whole motion part of the addiction in a way that gum or the patch cannot do.

          1. "It also satisfies the whole motion part of the addiction"
            - Huh... I really had no idea that was part of it. That does kinda make sense though.

    2. If I had an extra e-pipe I'd send you one, for you to see the draw. :). There are some awesome ones out there in e-land.

    3. I have found that part of the enjoyment I got from smoking was the 'thick' feel of the inhale. I get this from the Vaperiser. unlike gum or a plastic patch. I have now been smoke free for 2 years now after smoking for 20 years, and many many attempts to quit. I am down to vaping 0% nicotine now and do not get bronchitis three times a winter anymore either. The anti vap folks are a bit unhinged I think, I have had them start to fake cough when I'm vaping outside and they are over 5 meters away.

  7. The biggest health risk from e-cigs comes not from the nicotine juice, which is harmless to literally everyone, but from the vaporizers themselves. All are manufactured in China under questionable quality standards; every breath of vapor likely contains hazardous minerals.

    However, this doesn't mean e-cigs should be banned or regulated out of existence. It just means that users should demand higher quality products and that will happen when the industry matures and people learn more about the products.

    1. ROFL! I'm sorry, but you are living in the caveman age dude

      1. What are you talking about?

        The most recent study that's actually analyzed the entire process has determined that the nicotine liquid is harmless (unless, of course, you're allergic to an ingredient) but that the generally-poor quality of the vaporizers themselves lead to the inhaling of heavy metals and other toxins.

        Or are you referring to something else? I'm sorry if my "hey, maybe users should demand a better-made product" comment is something that you simply can't comprehend working in the marketplace.

  8. They're just setting the foundation to tax them into oblivion.

    Obviously no one can know anything until the government knows that there is nothing to know.

    1. Wait... you mean to tell me that there are people who are enjoying something that the government isn't currently taxing the shit out of?

      Well, sir, we can't have that. What do you think we are, barbarians?

  9. Jacob Sullum, will you marry me.

    :off to file for divorce in case he says yes:

  10. A message to the anti-e-cigarettes people,

    You are adults.


  11. Truth is, e-cigs ARE safer than cigarettes. Potentially harmless, but that remains to be seen.


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  14. I love this article! You hit the nail perfectly. Thank you for stating it like it is.

  15. Positive effects of small doses of nicotine
    improved mental performance, overnight performance on various memory & attention tasks improved, faster performance on Stroop and word classification, may exert direct beneficial effects on novelty detection and subsequent memory recognition, improved prospective memory (things one intends to do), reaction time is improved, as is inspection time and visual search, pilots' performance enhanced, improves late-day piloting, driving performance enhanced, can improve handwriting, helps ADHD (results indicate significant clinician-rated global improvement, self-rated vigor and concentration, and improved performance on chronometric measures of attention and timing accuracy), may help depression, may help symptoms of schizophrenia via increased synthesis of GABA & increased effectiveness of cognitive training, may protect against Parkinson's & Alzheimers. And nicotine is not addictive, doesn?t contain tar, carcinogens, cabonmonoxide. It is rewarding.

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