You do not have to be a smoker to be fascinated and passionate about the ongoing debate regarding electronic cigarettes. Because these devices show how harm reduction is similar to drug policy, both filled with promise and profoundly misinterpreted.
In the United States, using public health approaches has made a considerable effort to reduce the number of smokers. However, 480,000 people in will still die from tobacco smoking each year, a number that has remained nearly constant since 2004. While education, prevention and cessation programs must continue, these strategies alone are have a remote chance to result in the kind of big reductions in smoking like those we’ve witnessed in the past. Many of those that are still smoking simply cannot or will not quit from different reasons.
Electronic cigarettes, devices that vaporize a nicotine based solution into a breathable mist, almost eradicate all of the thousands of chemicals and carcinogens released from burning tobacco and are becoming increasingly popular among quitters instead of using patches or gum (therapies that have not proven highly successful on the long run).
Nicotine alone is a highly addictive drug, but with relatively few hazardous effects on human health when administered in small quantities and especially when compared to smoked tobacco. While extensive and long term research is still needed and some regulations on the industry and market are definitely required, all the studies and surveys to date suggest that neither the constituents of the e-liquid nor the second hand vapor pose any threat to human health. They are by far a lot less toxic than combustible cigarette smoke and all the concerns about them acting as a gateway and getting youths hooked up on nicotine are constantly being nullified by recent studies.
However, the risks associated with ecig use (which look rather modest at the moment) must be weighed against their potential benefits on the general health. At the moment there is consistent evidence to point out that they can reduce or eliminate the need for combustible cigarettes, improving the user’s general health and eliminating the exposure to second hand smoke to those around him.
On the other hand, despite these potential health benefits, many public health officials have come out strongly against e-cigarettes, resulting in a series of public bans all over the big U.S. states. Instead of opposing alternative therapies for smoking like electronic cigarettes, the health community should embrace them and understand that the general gain could be enormous. Reducing the number of smokes or quitting entirely can have a great impact on the general health costs of a person because the risk of many illnesses are reduced.
Addictions can be powerful, but they don’t have to necessarily be overwhelming or life destroying. We can remove many of the harms associated with addictions by providing people with less damaging and legal ways of obtaining the drug they are craving for.