The American Surgeon General published the first federal government report linking smoking and ill health 50 years ago. The report also demanded that the United states government take acceptable remedial action to reduce the harm caused by smoking.
Ever since then the amount of Americans who light up has fallen from 42% to 18% and in some states the amount of regular smokers can almost be counted in single figures. Similar reductions have occurred elsewhere. Almost half the UK population smoked in 1974. Now, under a quarter do. The figures in Australia are even healthier.
This is extremely great news because smoking causes a number of different diseases and is the main cause of preventable deaths in numerous countries. Indeed, smoking could have killed up to 100m individuals the twentieth century and also the World Health Organisation estimates that the figure for that 21st century might be a mind-boggling 1 billion.
About half a century ago another significant “smoking related” event happened: the initial electronic cigarette was patented. This is a device that produced vapour from tobacco without combustion. For most decades “vaping” remained a minority activity. But in the last few years these not-quite-so newfangled nicotine delivery devices have become rather popular. And concern continues to be raised over their use and particularly uptake among younger people. While figures from Ash suggest a negligible variety of 3 in 1 vape pen, a recently available US-based study found that the proportion of middle and high school students in the usa who had ever used an e-cigarette a lot more than doubled between 2011-2012. Some analysts have even predicted that vaping may become popular than smoking within a decade.
Modern e-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that vaporise nicotine for inhalation. They normally contain a cartridge containing liquid nicotine and a heating element created to produce an aerosol. Many include flavourings like menthol – an undeniable fact which has been criticised on the grounds that flavourings could make e-cigarettes more appealing to children.
Although vaping (and passive vaping) could well be safer than smoking (and passive smoking) numerous toxicological analyses have revealed that e-cigarettes contain many dangerous chemicals. The good thing is that e-cigarettes are primarily utilized by people as a popular smoking cessation aid. But it’s far from clear how effective e-cigarettes are in helping individuals to give up smoking in the long term. More worryingly, some studies show that several “never smokers” have tried vaping. This really is of particular concern because e-cigarettes could act as a “gateway drug” to conventional cigarettes.
The relative absence of evidence about the safety, effectiveness and ultimate impact of e-cigarettes has triggered the adoption of radically different approaches to the import, production, sale, distribution and advertising of those devices. Some countries, like Argentina, effectively prohibited them. But many jurisdictions allow e-cigarettes to become sold and consumed susceptible to varying degrees of regulation. The EU, for example, is taking a somewhat hard line, however it is unclear at this point what impact these new rules will have.
Ethically speaking, it could seem a good idea to be skeptical. E-cigarettes may not represent a modern Trojan horse, but the recent interest shown by tobacco companies in these devices should provide us with all pause for thought. This does not always mean that vaping needs to be entirely proscribed. Quite besides the proven fact that our liberty rights dictate otherwise, there is, as noted above, good reason to consider that e-cigarettes are less dangerous than regular cigarettes so the net effect on health (and longevity) could very well htkcbf positive.
But given the serious risk that vaping might re-glamourise smoking, especially amongst the young, a cautious regulatory approach is warranted. This should add a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to children as well as a New York-style ban on vaping in public indoor spaces and private offices. It also seems eminently sensible to set up regulations to make sure that the marketing of e-cigarettes is fixed to current smokers.
Many will complain this too many restrictions on the sale and consumption is going to be counter-productive. Some experts have even claimed that quality control regulation is, essentially, all that is needed, and that vaping could make smoking redundant. But this approach seems overly lax. After all, there’s (usually) no vapour without fire.