The Case for E-Cigarettes
There are about 46 million smokers in the United States, and an estimated 480,000 deaths per year are attributed to cigarette smoking. Despite our best efforts, these numbers have not budged in the last ten years. Electronic cigarettes may be our best hope for changing that.
Before e-cigarettes, the best we had to offer smokers was a set of pharmaceutical-based smoking-cessation protocols that failed about 90 percent of smokers even under the best of study conditions, when results are measured at six to twelve months. The flaws in these "evidence-based" protocols are fairly obvious. They do not satisfy or eliminate the urge to smoke in the majority of smokers, the dose is too low, and the duration of treatment is too short.
E-cigarettes and similar vapor devices compare quite favorably to these methods. E-cigarettes enable the user to inhale nicotine without the witches' brew of toxic chemicals found in cigarette smoke. They have proven extremely popular among smokers who have been unable or unwilling to quit, and studies show e-cigarettes to be as good as to much better than the pharmaceutical products. In addition, e-cigarettes have been shown to be easier to quit than cigarettes, enabling the now-ex-smoker to finally end his or her addiction to nicotine. While some non-smoking teens may experiment with e-cigarettes, very few will continue their use. As with adults, almost all e-cigarette use by teens is by smokers attempting to cut down or quit.
Further, e-cigarettes contain the same type of nicotine as the pharmaceutical products, and like those products e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco. E-cigarettes' other ingredients are well known, and consist of propylene glycol (theatrical fog), vegetable glycerin, citric acid, distilled water, and food flavoring. In the absence of FDA regulation (which is the fault of FDA, not the e-cigarette companies), the e-cigarette industry has developed and put into place voluntary standards to ensure the quality and consistency of e-cigarette fluid.
All told, the reduction in risk offered by e-cigarettes relative to traditional cigarettes is about 98 percent. Smokers find the vapor products far more satisfying, and, in many cases, far more effective than the pharmaceutical alternatives.
The case for e-cigarettes is based on solid research and the excellent safety record of the pharmaceutical nicotine-delivery products, which are chemically similar. When it comes to reducing the death toll of smoking, vapor products are the best option we have.
Joel Nitzkin, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, is author of the new paper "E-Cigarette Primer for State and Local Lawmakers."