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Diminishing Returns

The campaign against (if you can believe it) third-hand smoke.

May 12, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 33 • By ELI LEHRER
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This isn’t to suggest that e-cigarettes are safe. They contain nicotine, a very addictive stimulant that, like all stimulants, has the potential to cause heart problems. The fact that they’re quite addictive and may have long-term risks nobody has discovered (they’ve been on the market for less than a decade) is good reason to keep them away from children and out of schools, daycare centers, and medical facilities. Although not perfect, newly issued FDA regulations, which would ban sales to minors nationally, take a much more sensible approach to e-cig regulation than most localities have to date. But, whatever their dangers, e-cigarettes aren’t the same as cigarettes. People who use them instead of tobacco cigarettes can expect at least some of the same health benefits as those who quit smoking. And nothing suggests that their vapor is anything like secondhand smoke. Indeed, almost all research indicates the opposite.

The preponderance of the evidence indicates that both thirdhand smoke and e-cigarette vapor are the chemical equivalent of dirty looks. They may well be unpleasant or offensive to some people. But the public health case against them appears weak to nonexistent. Public policy would do well simply to leave them alone.

Eli Lehrer is president of the R Street Institute.

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