Sunday, April 27, 2014


E-cigarettes are becoming popular in the United States.  Like traditional cigarettes, they convey nicotine, but in a steam vapor, not in smoke that is inhaled into the lungs.

E-cigarettes employ delivery systems that look like actual cigarettes, and this seems to make health authorities' heads explode.

Now, as many states are legalizing largely unstudied marijuana for "medicinal" use, the FDA is keeping quiet about that and instead is going on the warpath about the nicotine in e-cigarettes because it is believed to be addictive and may cause yet-to-be specified harms.

Interesting.  People have been smoking cigarettes for more than 100 years.  There is incontrovertible evidence that inhaling the smoke in real cigarettes greatly damages the lungs and heart and raises the incidence of certain types of cancer.  Nicotine, not so much.

There is likely to be an outright ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18, which makes sense.  I wouldn't recommend "vaping" myself, but then I also don't recommend drinking sugary sodas or riding a bicycle without a helmet.

In fact, there are three groups of people for whom e-cigarettes might be a very good idea indeed.

First are current cigarette smokers.  Between 400,000 and 500,000 Americans die earlier deaths each year, mostly of lung cancer and emphysema, following many years of smoking.  More than 18 percent of adults still smoke, and most of them want to quit. There is growing anecdotal evidence that e-cigarettes help them with this.  At its yet-to-be-defined worst, vaping is vastly safer than smoking.

Second are alcoholics in recovery.  Not all of these people smoke cigarettes, but studies suggest that more than half of them do so, at least for a time, substituting a bad drug for another that, in some ways, is worse.  If vaping helps them, I'm for it. (In fact, even more recovering alcoholics drink coffee, often lots of it, which suggests that it, too, is helpful through a very difficult process;  maybe the FDA should investigate the safety of the caffeine in coffee beans.)

Third are people with schizophrenia.  It has been observed for decades that almost all of them smoke cigarettes.  Scientists suggest that the active ingredient in nicotine binds to brain receptors that release dopamine and serotonin, offering comfort with a very challenging disease.  In addition, there is some evidence that nicotine may improve schizophrenics' focus and may, at the margin, turn down some of the noise in their heads.  Would it be so awful if switching to vaporized nicotine offered these unfortunate people some small comfort?

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