I have written about e-cigarettes. I consider them the most effective response to the enormous public health problem posed by cigarette smoking — the leading cause of preventable death in this country. E-cigarettes offer a relatively healthy alternative for smokers who want to be done with cigarettes (as a great many smokers desire, but haven’t been able to accomplish). They deliver the nicotine that attracts people to cigarettes (and addicts them), but not the tar and other carcinogens that kill them.
This New York Times story, like much of the mainstream media coverage, focuses on the downside of e-cigarettes. They are attractive to teenagers and tend to hook them on nicotine. The nicotine won’t kill them, but can addict them.
The Times considers allegations that Juul, the main manufacturer of e-cigarettes, intentionally marketed its product to teenagers. The article is inconclusive and I take no position on the question.
Buried deep in article is information on the more pertinent question of whether e-cigarettes are saving lives. They are. We learn:
A report from Citigroup, citing Nielsen data, said that sales of traditional cigarettes dropped 6 percent in the first quarter of this year and [that] “it’s impossible to say what has caused the change for sure but the most obvious case is Juul.”
The Times also quotes Tom Miller, the attorney general of Iowa who helped lead the multistate 1998 master settlement with tobacco companies. He says the adult smoking rate has declined from 16.8 percent in 2014 to 13.9 percent in 2017.
The Times also reports that “the Bluetooth-equipped Juul might provide a way for adult users to measure their nicotine use.” Moreover, “it also might discourage teen use by disabling the device unless it’s in the presence of its adult buyer, perhaps by linking it to the buyer’s cellphone.” However, “Juul officials contend their ability to offer such innovations is hamstrung by regulatory policies.”
Attorney General Miller leads an advisory board to counsel Juul on efforts to combat underage “vaping” (consumption of e-cigarettes). This clearly represents the right approach to e-cigarettes — view them as the life-saving device they are, while combating teenage vaping. In the words of Sally Satel of the American Enterprise Institute, we shouldn’t let “overheated worries about youth vaping. . .obscure the massive potential benefits to the nation’s 38 million cigarette smokers.”