Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Follow the Science in Regulating E-Cigarettes

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Follow the Science in Regulating E-Cigarettes

Article excerpt

Editorial Exchange: Follow the science in regulating e-cigarettes

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An editorial from the Toronto Star, published Aug. 12:

Give Dr. David McKeown, Toronto's medical officer of health, high marks for courage. While many other public health officials have been trying to duck the highly controversial subject of electronic cigarettes, he has made a strong recommendation for the city to ban them wherever smoking is prohibited.

That makes sense, if only to reinforce decades of public health campaigning against smoking. But in taking steps to regulate the fast-growing practice of "vaping" with e-cigarettes, the city and province should not go overboard and ignore potential benefits of the devices - especially giving addicted smokers a new way to wean themselves off tobacco. They should be guided by evidence, not new-age puritanism.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat up a liquid that can contain flavouring and - usually - nicotine. They produce a vapour that isn't loaded with most of the cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco smoke. For users, it's a cigarette-like experience without (they hope) the dangers.

The experts are sharply divided on the evidence, and e-cigarettes haven't been around long enough for scientists to say definitively whether long-term use is dangerous. No one even knows how many are being used; Health Canada is spending $230,000 on a study this year just to find out.

But McKeown's report, which is to be considered by the city's board of health on Monday, draws a damning picture of the health effects. "A growing body of scientific evidence," he writes, "indicates that e-cigarettes could pose health risks to users and those exposed to the vapour." Negative effects of vaping include "airway, mouth and throat irritation, decreased lung function, allergic reactions and potential respiratory inflammation," as well as nicotine poisoning.

He also leans heavily on concerns that use of e-cigarettes will "normalize" smoking behaviour after decades of public health campaigns dedicated to making it socially unacceptable. The evidence for this is much thinner, but it plays into the public perception that smoking - or anything that resembles it - is taboo. …

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