The Great Debate Over E-Cigs

By Sandy K. Johnson

The anti-tobacco movement, united against smoking for decades, is now seeing fissures over e-cigarettes.

One faction believes e-cigarettes may be less harmful than traditional cigarettes and could help smokers cut back or quit. Another group thinks e-cigarettes could be even more harmful because they can cause nicotine addiction among people who otherwise would not start smoking, and because nicotine itself has negative effects on health. But all sides agree the growth of e-cigarettes is outpacing the ability of researchers to study the health effects of vaping.

“It’s the Wild West, it’s a free-for-all,” said Dr. Judith Mackay, senior advisor to the World Lung Foundation and the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use.

There’s no denying the surge in sales. Mackay cited a Bloomberg economist who said e-cigarettes comprise just 1 percent of the world market for tobacco products today; it will grow to 10 percent in a decade.

A 2014 U.S. survey underscores the allure of vaping to young users. The National Institute on Drug Abuse showed 17.1 percent of 12th graders had used e-cigs in the last month compared with 6.7 percent who used traditional cigarettes. Among 8th graders, 8.7 percent had tried e-cigs and just 1.4 percent had smoked cigarettes.

“There’s a lot of evidence they could be harmful. We don’t quite know yet,” said Dr. Dean Schraufnagel, professor of medicine and pathology at the University of Illinois, Chicago. As a scientist, he said he believes e-cigs should be banned.

It comes down to political will, Schraufnagel said, pointing out it took decades for governments to regulate other tobacco products.