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Joel Mathis & Ben Boychuk: Should governments regulate e-cigarettes?

Democrats in the U.S. Senate this week introduced a bill that would ban the marketing of electronic cigarettes to minors. “We cannot risk undoing decades of progress in reducing youth smoking by allowing e-cigarette makers to target our kids,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

E-cigarettes are a burgeoning trend and growing share of the $40 billion U.S. tobacco market. Virtually unknown five years ago, e-cigarette sales could reach $1.5 billion this year, according to industry groups. Unlike traditional cigarettes, which burn processed tobacco leaves, e-cigarette users inhale and exhale a nicotine-laced vapor. Critics say fruit- or candy-flavored vapors are designed to appeal to kids. Should the government regulate or even ban e-cigarettes to protect kids? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, who write the RedBlueAmerica column for the McClatchy News Service, weigh in.

Ben Boychuk: No

Tobacco use — any kind of tobacco use — brings out the Puritan in people who might otherwise espouse a live-and-let-live, “keep-your-laws-off-my-body” philosophy.

For a certain type of busybody, if it looks like a cigarette, smells like a cigarette, tastes like a cigarette, then it must be a cigarette — and therefore it’s rotten, no good, probably deadly, and in desperate demand of government regulation as soon as possible. A half-century of public education warning Americans against smoking’s dangers is bound to do that.

Without question, cigarette smoking is bad for your health. You shouldn’t smoke — even though, despite all of those anti-smoking campaigns, public bans and high taxes, about 18 percent of American adults still smoke.

Fact is, e-cigarettes sort of resemble old-fashioned cigarettes. But they don’t taste like cigarettes — in fact, many former smokers who have turned to e-cigs as a way to help kick their nasty old habit quickly realize that traditional cigarettes taste terrible. And e-cigarettes don’t smell like cigarettes, either. Vapor isn’t smoke. E-cigarettes don’t produce the same nasty byproducts as cigarettes, such as tar. What little research we have suggests e-cigarettes might emit trace amounts of bad stuff - hardly a cause for panic.

But the anti-smoking movement has too much invested to let a new vice that looks like a despised old one gain too much ground.

Several cities and states have already passed bans on “vaping” in the strange belief that old regulations are good enough for new technology. Now Senate Democrats would summon the ghost of Joe Camel to argue that e-cigarettes are just a high-tech version of the same old cancer sticks, using “the children” once again as human shields for their policy preferences.

One unintended consequence of regulating e-cigarettes the same as traditional cigarettes may be to discourage people from quitting the more dangerous habit. Politicians are always in a rush to “do something.” But a little less hyperbole, and a great deal more evidence, would do this debate a world of good.

Joel Mathis: Yes

Have e-cigarettes demonstrated enough harm to invite regulation? Probably not yet — the science, as they say, isn’t there yet. From that standpoint, anti-smoking advocates and legislators would be wise to keep their powder dry instead of launching a crusade right away.

But there’s an ancient principle that suggests e-cigs are deserving, at the very least, of some regulatory scrutiny: If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. And e-cigarettes — which are designed to emulate the look and feel of regular cigarettes, right down to the glowing battery-powered tips — sure do quack like a duck, don’t they?

What’s more, they even do a duck’s job. A cigarette’s function, after all, is to deliver a dose of sweet, stimulating nicotine to the smoker’s bloodstream — which is exactly the same function of the vapor hits produced by e-cigs.

Now the vapor is probably an improvement over smoke, which contains all kinds of cancerous, unhealthy chemicals. Then again: Nicotine tends to be extremely addictive. Authorities quite rightly take a dim view of any product whose primary purpose is to create a bodily craving to use the product again and again. From that standpoint, the need for regulation starts to look compelling.

The case may become more compelling when you consider this: E-cig critics see the devices as toy versions of the real thing — and thus a gateway drug to real cigarettes. Critics will scoff, but it wouldn’t be the first time the tobacco industry has taken a back door to wooing new, younger customers: American society was once awash in candy cigarettes and Joe Camel cartoons designed to lure youngsters into a lifetime of smoking.

Anti-tobacco advocates have been, perhaps, too quick to threaten regulations and possible bans against e-cigarettes. It’s tough to blame them, however. Cigarettes have killed millions of Americans. Better to stop the next needless holocaust in its tracks, before it gets started.

Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Joel Mathis is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine.

Legacy Comments1

Nearly one in five of the forty four million U.S. smokers have tried electronic cigarettes,known as e-cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to issue proposed new regulations for e-cigarettes in coming days or weeks. It’s timely to consider some of the key issues related to smoking, health, and e-cigarettes. Here’s what’s known, and helpful as background information as we, as a society, consider where we go from this point forward regarding e-cigarettes: It is the chemicals in smoke inhaled by burning leaf tobacco that causes illness, not nicotine, though nicotine is highly addictive.. Fewer than one in ten smokers quit, usually by going “cold turkey” with or without the use of quit-smoking medications like nicotine replacement products, varenicline (Chantix) or bupropion (Zyban). A smoker who stops smoking but continues to use nicotine in forms obtained by methods other than smoking, such as by ongoing use of nicotine replacement products, nicotine pellets, or lozenges, snus, and most likely, e-cigarettes, will reduce major health risks from smoking by 95%. This is an approach called “harm reduction” and is similar in concept to reducing harm from motor vehicle accidents by encouraging use of seat belts or reducing risk of becoming infected with HIV by encouraging condom use and safe sex. While many e-cigarette users report cutting back on smoking regular cigarettes or having quit entirely, there is little published research on outcomes and little standardization of manufacturing of the devices or nicotine solutions used in them. Little safety data exists but they are still likely to be far safer than continued smoking. Major cigarette makers such as Altria, British American Tobacco, Reynolds American, and Lorillard are now in the e-cigarette business and promotion of these devices to young people is currently unregulated. Here’s what a recent Time Magazine article (September 30, 21013) called Electronic Cigarettes: the Future of Smoking had to say: The percentage of high school students who had ever used an electronic cigarette more than doubled, from 4.7% in 2011 to 10.0% in 2012, and in 2012 1.78 million middle and high school students in the U.S. had tried e-cigarettes, according to the CDC It hasn’t been long enough to see whether this means those kids will eventually switch to cigarettes, but a 2001 study published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research showed that males ages 11 to 19 who used snuff and chewing tobacco were more than three times as likely as nonusers to have become smokers four years later. How should we proceed from this point onward? I believe society has a rare opportunity to promote a major advance in public health, harm reduction, including e-cigarettes in the mix of useful tools for replacing nicotine in smoked cigarettes. At the same time we can protect the public from inherent dangers caused by the availability of a new nicotine delivery system promoted to minors by major corporations who have already shown blatant disregard for those who use their products and who will profit from seeing more people addicted to nicotine in any of its forms. We have some consumer protections from faulty products and regularly see, for example, product recalls by auto manufacturers for problems such as faulty brakes. Where are the required recalls of a product, cigarettes, that slowly kills more than one third of regular users? We can limit e-cigarette availability to adults, prevent promotion and sales to minors, prohibit their indoor use in public spaces, and fund studies of their benefits for smoking cessation as well as their health risks. We should regulate production standards to ensure products free of as yet unknown health hazards that will be less likely to be recalled and more likely to reduce overall harm from nicotine addiction. I believe e-cigarettes have the potential to offer a major public health advance via harm reduction. Unregulated, they may cause major public health hazards. We haven’t gotten it right with cigarettes for over a hundred years. Let’s get it right with e-cigarettes now, before it’s too late. Richard Brunswick, M.D., M.P.H., is a retired family physician and geriatrician. He is the author of Can’t Quit? Bullsh*t! You Can Stop Smoking!

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