The American Surgeon General published the very first government report linking smoking and ill health fifty years ago. The report also demanded that the United states government take acceptable helpful action to minimize the harm caused by smoking.
Since then the percentage of Americans who light up has fallen from 42% to 18% as well as in some states the percentage of regular smokers can almost be counted in single figures. Similar reductions have occurred elsewhere. Almost half the united kingdom population smoked in 1974. Now, less than a quarter do. The figures around australia are even healthier.
This is great news because smoking causes a number of different diseases and is the key reason for preventable deaths in many countries. Indeed, smoking may have killed as many as 100m individuals the twentieth century and the World Health Organisation estimates that the figure for your 21st century can be quite a mind-boggling 1 billion.
About 50 years 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 over the past few years these not-quite-so newfangled nicotine delivery devices are becoming rather popular. And concern has become raised over their use and particularly uptake among young people. While figures from Ash suggest a negligible number of vape pen battery, a recently available US-based study learned that the proportion of middle and high school students in America who had ever used an electronic 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 consist of a cartridge containing liquid nicotine along with a heating element designed to produce an aerosol. Many include flavourings like menthol – an undeniable fact which has been criticised on the grounds that flavourings may make e-cigarettes more appealing to children.
Although vaping (and passive vaping) may well be safer than smoking (and passive smoking) a number of toxicological analyses have shown that e-cigarettes contain many dangerous chemicals. The great thing is that e-cigarettes are primarily used by people as a popular quitting smoking aid. But it’s far from clear how effective e-cigarettes will be in helping individuals to give up smoking eventually. More worryingly, some studies show that a number of “never smokers” have tried vaping. This really is of particular concern because e-cigarettes could work as a “gateway drug” to conventional cigarettes.
The relative lack of evidence concerning the safety, effectiveness and ultimate impact of e-cigarettes has resulted in the adoption of radically different methods to the import, production, sale, distribution and advertising of these devices. Some countries, including Argentina, effectively prohibited them. But most jurisdictions allow e-cigarettes to be sold and consumed subject to varying degrees of regulation. The EU, as an example, has taken a somewhat hard line, yet it is unclear at this time what impact these new rules may have.
Ethically speaking, it might seem a good idea to be skeptical. E-cigarettes may not represent a modern Trojan horse, nevertheless the recent interest shown by tobacco companies in these devices should give us all pause for thought. This does not necessarily mean that vaping should be entirely proscribed. Quite aside from the fact that our liberty rights dictate otherwise, there exists, as noted above, good reason to consider that e-cigarettes are less dangerous than regular cigarettes so the net influence on health (and longevity) may 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 will incorporate a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to children and a New York City-style ban on vaping in public places indoor spaces and private office buildings. It also seems eminently sensible to put in place regulations to ensure that the marketing of e-cigarettes is fixed to current smokers.
Most will complain that too many restrictions on the sale and consumption will 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 method seems overly lax. In the end, there’s (usually) no vapour without fire.