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- The ethos of vaping is relative risk. E-cigarettes reduce harm, but can’t be called harmless. As a safer alternative than smoking for people addicted to nicotine, they are analogous to prescribing methadone for people addicted to opioids, a strategy called harm reduction. Other kinds of harm reduction, such as giving clean needles to injection-drug users and distributing condoms, pre-exposure prophylactic medication, and safe-sex information for populations at risk for HIV/AIDS, are widely endorsed by the public-health establishment.
- In light of history, public-health advocates’ skepticism about e-cigarettes, at least when they first appeared, was understandable. But genuine advances really can occur, and the evidence suggests that the shift from smoking to vaping should be celebrated, not decried.
- Claims that nicotine alone leads to brain damage in youth have limited empirical support; most of the relevant literature involves studies of teens exposed to the substance via smoking. I mention this not to dismiss the problem of teen vaping—the FDA and other agencies are rightly trying to curb teen access—but merely to warn against rash, misdirected responses that will prevent today’s smokers from quitting.
- Unfortunately, the misconceptions surrounding vaping may be too well entrenched. A Kaiser poll conducted this month revealed that 49 percent of respondents support banning all e-cigarettes, not just flavored ones. That would be a deadly mistake. “If we lose this opportunity,” David S. Abrams, a professor at the New York University College of Global Public Health, told CBS Morning News last month, “we will have blown the single biggest public-health opportunity ever to get rid of cigarettes and replace them with a much safer form of nicotine for everybody.” With 35 million Americans still smoking, the stakes are high.