Taking on the E-Cigarette Haters

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A smoker with an electronic cigarette

The City Council is currently considering a bill that would forbid the use of e-cigarettes anywhere cigarettes are currently banned, including bars and restaurants. Mayor Bloomberg has also taken a firm anti-e-cig stance. However, some public health advocates have taken the opposite stance. Amy L. Fairchild, professor, and James Colgrove, associate professor, both of sociomedical sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia, discuss their op-ed, "The Case for Tolerating E-Cigarettes," that ran in today's New York Times.

An E-Cig Primer

  • Is the vapor harmful? Fairchild says the overwhelming weight of evidence indicates that e-cig vapor is not harmful to bystanders.
  • But nicotine's not good for you, right? Think of nicotine as similar to caffeine. In very high doses it can be harmful, but Colgrove and Fairchild say that we can "tolerate nicotine addiction" particularly when the alternative is harmful smoke.
  • But in a bar, how do you know if someone's e-smoking? Caller Andrea says that the main give-away for a real cigarette is the smell. And Colgrove says that "we have no reason to think this won't be self-enforcing." E-cig smokers may have an incentive to point out the real smokers among them.
  • Won't this "re-normalize smoking"? There's a concern that once again normalizing the act of smoking could make it more socially acceptable, with e-cigarettes serving as a gateway to real cigarettes. But Fairchild argues it could work the other way just as easily -- normalizing e-cigarettes could make more traditional smokers make the switch.