Electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigarettes,” have quickly become one of the most popular nicotine replacement products. The Wall Street Journal reports sales of e-cigarettes doubled in the United States over the past five years, moving from $250 million to $500 million in total sales. Some industry experts predict sales of e-cigarettes could reach $1 billion this year, doubling sales from 2012.
E-cigarettes have become increasingly popular with investors as well, even those traditionally opposed to smoking. Founders Fund, a San Francisco venture-capital fund started by PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel, has invested around $5 million in e-cigarette ventures. This investment comes only eight years after Thiel partially financed a film satire on the tobacco industry, “Thank You for Smoking.”
In March 2013, former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona joined the board of NJOY, a top-selling e-cigarette brand. After joining NJOY Carmona stated that although more study is needed on the effects of e-cigarettes, “initial information certainly suggests there is significant potential for harm reduction,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
Opponents say the main focus of tobacco policy should be on total cessation and use of nicotine replacement products, including e-cigarettes, should be discouraged. They also criticize the availability of flavored e-cigarettes, arguing these products may be a gateway to regular tobacco use. They say nicotine replacement products should be used only as a tool to help users quit, not as a long-term alternative.
Supporters of e-cigarettes say they are a viable option for smokers seeking a nicotine replacement therapy. Heartland Institute Senior Fellow Brad Rodu of the University of Louisville notes any health risks involved in using e-cigarettes or any other smoke-free tobacco product are small in comparison to smoking.
In a recent article in the Atlantic, Dr. Rodu argues that e-cigarettes may be the eventual replacement of cigarettes for many smokers. Rodu contends that increased usage of e-cigarettes could save millions of lives, quoting a Royal College of Physicians piece.
“…that smokers smoke predominantly for nicotine, that nicotine itself is not especially hazardous, and that if nicotine could be provided in a form that is acceptable and effective as a cigarette substitute, millions of lives could be saved.”
Dr. Rodu also voiced concern over the growing number of groups and legislators seeking to add onerous new regulations on e-cigarettes. He argues that the regulations hinder the products ability to help thousands of people quit smoking while repeating the mistakes of previous regulation on products like alcohol.
“Sadly, the potential of tobacco harm reduction is threatened by opposition from many major medical organizations and government agencies. Obsessed with a myopic vision of a tobacco-free society, they have transformed a legitimate war on smoking into a moral crusade against tobacco, a mistake that was tragically made with alcohol almost 100 years ago.”
E-cigarettes, like many other legal nicotine products, are not intended for use by minors. Expanding existing age laws for tobacco products to include e-cigarettes is a logical step in protecting against abuse and a reform on which almost all groups in the debate agree. However, legislators should not over-regulate or excessively tax e-cigarettes, because that would suppress an increasingly popular and successful method of helping Americans reduce smoking or quit altogether.