The American Surgeon General published the first federal government report linking smoking and ill health fifty years ago. The report also demanded that the American government take acceptable helpful action to lessen the harm brought on by smoking.
Since that time the portion of Americans who glow has fallen from 42% to 18% and then in some states the percentage of regular smokers can almost be counted in single figures. Similar reductions have occurred elsewhere. Nearly half the UK population smoked in 1974. Now, less than a quarter do. The figures around australia are even healthier.
This is very good news because smoking causes many different diseases and is the key reason for preventable deaths in lots of countries. Indeed, smoking could have killed up to 100m folks the twentieth century and also the World Health Organisation estimates that the figure for the 21st century can be quite a mind-boggling 1 billion.
About half a century ago another significant “smoking related” event happened: the first electronic cigarette was patented. This was a device that produced vapour from tobacco without combustion. For many decades “vaping” remained a minority activity. But in the last several years these not-quite-so newfangled nicotine delivery devices are becoming rather popular. And concern has been raised over their use and particularly uptake among young people. While figures from Ash suggest a negligible number of vape pen explodes, a recent US-based study learned that the proportion of middle and high school students in America who had ever used an e-cigarette a lot more than doubled between 2011-2012. Some analysts have even predicted that vaping could become more popular than smoking in a decade.
Modern e-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that vaporise nicotine for inhalation. They normally include a cartridge containing liquid nicotine along with a heating element created to produce an aerosol. Many include flavourings like menthol – a well known fact which was criticised on the grounds that flavourings might make e-cigarettes more attractive to children.
Although vaping (and passive vaping) may be safer than smoking (and passive smoking) a number of toxicological analyses have revealed that e-cigarettes contain many dangerous chemicals. The good thing is that e-cigarettes are primarily used by people as a popular quitting smoking aid. But it’s far away from clear how effective e-cigarettes have been in helping individuals to give up smoking eventually. More worryingly, some studies have shown that a number of “never smokers” have tried vaping. This can be of particular concern because e-cigarettes could act as a “gateway drug” to conventional cigarettes.
The relative insufficient evidence about the safety, effectiveness and ultimate impact of e-cigarettes has resulted in the adoption of radically different strategies to the import, production, sale, distribution and advertising of such devices. Some countries, like Argentina, effectively prohibited them. But a majority of jurisdictions allow e-cigarettes to become sold and consumed subject to varying levels of regulation. The EU, as an example, is taking a somewhat hard line, however it is unclear at this stage what impact these new rules may have.
Ethically speaking, it might seem smart to be suspicious. E-cigarettes may not represent a modern day Trojan horse, however the recent interest shown by tobacco companies within these devices should provide us with all pause for thought. This does not mean that vaping ought to be entirely proscribed. Quite besides the simple fact that our liberty rights dictate otherwise, there exists, as noted above, valid reason to believe that e-cigarettes are less dangerous than regular cigarettes and so the net influence on health (and longevity) might htkcbf positive.
But due to the serious risk that vaping might re-glamourise smoking, especially between the young, a cautious regulatory approach is warranted. This ought to add a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to children and a New York-style ban on vaping in public places indoor spaces and private office buildings. It also seems eminently sensible to put in place regulations to make sure that the marketing of e-cigarettes is restricted to current smokers.
Most will complain that too many restrictions on the sale and consumption is going to be counter-productive. Some experts have even claimed that quality control regulation is, pretty much, all that is needed, which vaping might make smoking redundant. But this approach seems overly lax. In the end, there’s (usually) no vapour without fire.