NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

E-Cigarettes Reduce Harm from Tobacco

December 9, 2013

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should highlight e-cigarettes as a way to reduce tobacco harms, says Dr. Joel Nitzkin, a senior fellow in tobacco policy for the R Street Institute.

Nicotine vaporizers (more commonly known as e-cigarettes) are battery-powered devices that heat and vaporize nicotine fluid, allowing the smoker to experience the effects of nicotine without the negative effects of smoke. They are shaped like cigarettes and held by the "smoker" in the same way as traditional cigarettes.

Sales of e-cigarettes have skyrocketed. The head of Wells Fargo's beverage, tobacco and convenience store research, Bonnie Herzog, estimates that electronic tobacco products will overtake cigarettes within the next 10 years.

But public health advocates have objected to e-cigarettes.

  • Many cite an FDA press conference, in which the FDA told the public that e-cigarettes contain trace amounts of carcinogens, and that 1 of 20 e-cigarette samples contained an antifreeze ingredient.
  • However, with the exception of the one e-cigarette that contained a trace of antifreeze, the amount of carcinogens in e-cigarettes are about the same as the amount of carcinogens that are approved by the FDA and used in nicotine replacement therapy products like Nicorette.

An FDA spokesperson also stated that the agency was concerned that the public would become addicted to e-cigarettes, saying, "We don't want the public to perceive them as a safer alternative to cigarettes."

  • But it is cigarette smoke, not nicotine, that causes cancer, heart and lung disease. Moreover, other nicotine replacement products (like nicotine gum or patches) are freely sold in stores with no restrictions on sales.
  • Additionally, studies in both the United States and the United Kingdom indicate that teenagers are aware of e-cigarettes, but researchers were unable to find a single non-smoking teen who had begun smoking them.
  • Nicotine is a beneficial drug for mental health patients, including those who are depressed, schizophrenic or biopolar, and eliminating non-prescription nicotine would harm those patients.

Those who condemn e-cigarettes are likely unfamiliar with their public health benefits, and e-cigarettes should be promoted as a way to control tobacco harms.

Source: Dr. Joel L. Nitzkin, "The Promise of E-Cigarettes for Tobacco Harm Reduction," R Street Institute, November 2013.


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