E-Cigarettes: The Disservice of Doubt

e-cigarettesSmoking cigarettes kills 480,000 people in this country every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Such a staggering number demands that smoking cessation be a top priority in the United States. Yet, how people secede from tobacco is a matter of contention, one that is worth looking into.

Historically, when people have attempted to quit smoking, they have turned to nicotine patches, gums and smoking cessation medications like Chantix and Bupropion (Wellbutrin). While such methods have helped a significant number of people quit, for many they are ineffective. In recent years, millions of people have given e-cigarettes a shot, which has drawn a lot of scrutiny.


If you have attended a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) in recent years, then it is likely you have seen scores of people using electronic cigarettes, otherwise known as e-cigarettes or just e-cigs. The devices vaporize a liquid that contains various levels of nicotine, and they are believed to be a safer alternative to traditional forms of tobacco use despite the fact that there is little research to support the claim.

Claims have also been made that suggest e-cigarettes are a viable smoking cessation tool, despite research that suggests otherwise. However, there is no research that proves that e-cigs are as bad, or worse than regular cigarettes. Conflicting opinions and concerns about teenage e-cigarette use led to a call by a number of lawmakers demanding that legislation be put in place to ensure that warnings about the dangers of e-cigarette use be stamped on packaging. What’s more, setting age restrictions in line with current tobacco use laws.

A Billion Dollar Industry of Doubt

E-cigarettes hit the market around ten years ago, and in the last few years the it became a multi-billion-dollar industry. Every major tobacco company has a version of an electronic cigarette and you can find “vaping” stores in every major city in the world. It would seem that e-cig sales can only continue to go in one direction, up! But, that has not been the case and believe it or not, health experts are concerned.

The attempts to discourage e-cigarette use among teenagers and adults who have never used tobacco products has had the unintended effect of discouraging current smokers from making the switch to vaping, The New York Times reports. Scientists and policymakers, alike, believe that attempts by some to make e-cigarettes seem unsafe could be hurting the 40 million smokers in this country that may benefit from e-cigs. The vigilant need to portray e-cigarettes in poor light has resulted in a significant drop in sales, forcing one major company (NJoy) to file bankruptcy.

While e-cigarettes are not completely safe, and often contain nicotine which is addictive, the majority of health experts in the field of tobacco use believe that they are safer than traditional cigarettes. Yet, e-cigs are now regulated exactly the same as tobacco, which means that people are believing them to be just as bad, potentially in error.

“When they are regulated just like tobacco, people draw the conclusion that they are just as dangerous,” said Daniel I. Wikler, an ethicist at the Harvard School of Public Health. “You didn’t say it, but you didn’t have to. People make that assumption and you don’t try to disabuse them of it.”

Alcohol: The True Gateway Drug

alcoholMarijuana is commonly referred to as the ‘gateway drug,’ that is the drug that people try first before moving on to experiment with harder drugs. It has been an argument that many who are against marijuana legalization have used in defense of their stance. While it may be true that most people who progress to drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, have used marijuana at one time or another, it does not mean that it should be branded the gateway drug. In fact, new research points to another substance, one that is far more pervasive and legal than marijuana, The Washington Post reports. If you were thinking alcohol, then you would be correct.

Researchers from Texas A&M and the University of Florida analyzed Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey data from 2,800 U.S. 12th graders, according to the article. The findings indicated that “the vast majority of respondents reported using alcohol prior to either tobacco or marijuana initiation.” The researchers point out that teenagers were the least likely to smoke marijuana before using alcohol or cigarettes.

Alcohol is legal throughout the United States, and while the substance is generally considered to be somehow different than other mind altering substances, the fact of the matter is that alcohol is an addictive drug – one that can produce equal amounts of hardship for the individuals who imbibe. The researchers concluded:

“Alcohol was the most widely used substance among respondents, initiated earliest, and also the first substance most commonly used in the progression of substance use.”

Determining which addictive substance that teens use first is important, but the researchers point out that when people start using may be even more important. They found adolescents who drank for the first time in the 6th or 7th grade would then use on average nearly two illegal drugs later, the article reports. The researchers write:

“Overall, early onset substance initiation, whether that is alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs, exerts a powerful influence over future health risk behaviors.”

The findings were published in the Journal of School Health.

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