What’s Driving the War on E-Cigarettes?

newsWhen the prime-time cameras caught Julia Louis-Dreyfus “vaping” an electronic cigarette at the 2014 Golden Globes ceremony, cries of disapproval arose from our nation’s capital. Representative Henry Waxman (D., Calif.), then the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Representative Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.) told the president of NBC that they were “dismayed” that the actress was “sending the wrong message to kids about these products.”

In a bruising Senate hearing a few months later, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D., W.Va.) tore into executives of two major e-cigarette companies: “I’m ashamed of you. I don’t know how you go to sleep at night. I don’t know what gets you to work in the morning except the color green of dollars. You are what is wrong with this country.” To listen to these reactions, you would never guess that e-cigarettes, battery-powered devices that produce an aerosol solution of nicotine free of carcinogenic tar, offer any health benefits to smokers. In truth, e-cigarettes have the potential to ignite a public-health revolution. But thanks to alarm over speculative dangers, misleading spin on facts, and outright misrepresentations of the evidence, various lawmakers and public-health officials threaten to dash that promise.

What is driving the controversy over e-cigarettes? At its core lies a tension between two camps: the precautionists and the pragmatists. The former have several concerns about e-cigarettes. First, that the health risks of the products haven’t been fully established. Second, that e-cigarettes will “renormalize” smoking and undo the gains of five decades of anti-smoking advocacy. Third, that vaping among teens will serve as a “gateway” to their eventual tobacco smoking.

What is driving the controversy over e-cigarettes? At its core lies a tension between two camps: the precautionists and the pragmatists.

The critics’ anxieties are not without merit, but they need to be placed in the context of the good that e-cigarettes do by sparing nicotine-dependent individuals from carcinogenic smoke. Precautionists are unmoved by the harm that comes to smokers who have failed to quit but who cannot take advantage of less dangerous ways of using nicotine. Accordingly, this camp seeks heavy regulatory oversight by the FDA and bans on television advertising and on vaping in public.

The pragmatists, who advance a public-health approach called “tobacco-harm reduction,” support electronic cigarettes because the devices are much less harmful than the considerable harms of combustible cigarettes. Pragmatists are not fixated on whether vaping is completely safe but on whether it is safer for smokers than cigarettes are. They are willing to make policy trade-offs on the basis of cost–benefit analyses. Some pragmatists hope that the FDA will go so far as to deem e-cigarettes outside its regulatory purview altogether — a decision that the agency could theoretically make within the next few weeks or months but almost surely will not. Pragmatists also want states to tax e-cigarettes minimally if at all, to incentivize smokers to switch. Pragmatists do agree with precautionists about e-cigarettes on one point: The devices should not be sold or marketed to children.

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/418483/whats-driving-war-e-cigarettes-sally-satel

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