Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Electronic Cigarettes' Not a Smoking Tool

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Electronic Cigarettes' Not a Smoking Tool

Article excerpt

At times over the past century, certain revolutionary technological advancements have resulted in new consumer goods that disrupted the product landscape so quickly and significantly, that our language struggled to catch up. The term 'mechanized horse' was used frequently in the early days to describe the automobile, and the term 'smartphone' is still widely accepted and used but seems antiquated and inaccurate given the large list of functions we perform on these devices.

More often than not, misnomers like this are harmless. But sometimes improper labels can become more than just a matter of semantics - they can affect public policy and national health.

This is currently the fate of the "electronic cigarette." Despite the product's name, it is not a cigarette at all. Unlike "traditional" cigarettes, their electronic "counterparts" do not contain tobacco leaves meant for combustion. Rather, they are simply nicotine delivery devices. While e-cigarettes are not currently sold, marketed or regulated as smoking cessation products, they are used mostly by people who are desperate for an alternative to smoking tobacco cigarettes.

The public health community has long recognized that the real danger from a tobacco cigarette is the result of combusting tobacco and inhaling it into the smoker's lungs. However, the user is typically not seeking the satisfaction and pleasure of filling his/ her lungs with smoke. Rather, it is the nicotine in each cigarette that they are after - an ingredient that, while addictive, in small dosages is itself no more harmful than a cup of coffee.

Given the deadly consequences of cigarette smoking, the passion of health policy advocates and legislators for eliminating tobacco use from society is understandable and commendable. Regrettably, however, these same good folks are mistaken when they fail to acknowledge the obvious differences between "traditional" tobacco cigarettes and electronic cigarettes.

Yes, of course we need long-term health studies of electronic cigarettes. But this is a new product and, by definition, "long- term" studies will take a "long" time. …

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