The e-cigarette, short of course for electronic cigarette, is a technology that is currently in the process of proliferating within the context of the contemporary world Some stakeholders have suggested that this is a very good thing, whereas others have condemned it as a public health relapse. This sample case study will explore the issue of e-cigarettes.
Cigarettes and e-cigarettes
A cigarette, of course, is a thin cylinder of paper that is wrapped around tobacco and is ignited in order to deliver the nicotine within the tobacco into the body of the smoker. Although the idea of smoking tobacco, in general, has existed for a very long time, most sources indicate that the invention of the modern cigarette as it is presently known can be traced back to the late nineteenth-century United States.
Cigarettes have since enjoyed great popularity all throughout the twentieth century. By the last couple decades of the twentieth century, though, the health effects of smoking tobacco became increasingly well-known and cigarette sales became increasingly regulated, the practice of smoking has seen a stark drop in popularity. This is exemplified, for instance, by current laws in many cities that prevent patrons from smoking inside bars or restaurants (see Robertson).
Negative effects of tobacco
The negative health effects of smoking cigarettes have surely not been exaggerated. As the American Cancer Society has pointed out:
“tobacco smoke is made up of more than 7,000 chemicals, including over 70 known to cause cancer.” (carcinogens)
These chemicals include:
There is also, of course, the obvious point that a smoker is purposefully putting smoke into his lungs, whereas the lungs themselves are primarily designed to process clean air. This can and likely will have the obvious effect of causing deterioration of the respiratory system, even in the absence of all the other overt toxins present within cigarette smoke.
By now, it would be fair to say that a person who smokes is either: one, someone is careless about his physical health; two, someone who finds that the mental payoff is worth the physical sacrifice; or three, someone who wants to stop smoking but cannot due to addiction. This last point is a reference to the fact that nicotine is one of the most common addictions.
Health implications of e-cigarettes
In this context, the e-cigarette has often been presented as a more healthful nicotine delivery mechanism. The advocacy group Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights has objectively summarized the technology of e-cigarettes in the following way:
“E-cigarettes are devices designed to mimic cigarettes. The metal tubes are designed to look like real cigarettes and contain a cartridge filled with a nicotine-laced liquid that is vaporized by a battery-powered heating element” (paragraph 1).
The most notable difference between the traditional cigarette and the e-cigarette consists of the obvious fact that the e-cigarette produces no smoke; the user merely inhales and exhales nicotine vapor. This, in addition to the fact that there is no actual combustion occurring when one smokes an e-cigarette, has led at least some stakeholders to suggest that e-cigarettes are far less harmful toward the user’s health than is the traditional cigarette.
Scientific data measuring e-cigarette dangers
The scientific evidence regarding the health effects of e-cigarettes would seem to confirm the common sense view that given that e-cigarettes do not produce actual smoke, they cannot possibly be as bad for one’s health as traditional cigarettes. For example, Sullum has quoted one study as having reached the conclusion:
“Analysis of the smoke from conventional cigarettes showed that the mainstream cigarette smoke delivered approximately 1500 times more harmful and potentially harmful constituents (HPHCs) tested when compared to e-cigarette aerosol or to puffing room air” (paragraph 4).
This is a pretty dramatic finding, to be sure. The reservation admittedly should be lodged that it is as of yet unclear what effects the specific chemicals found in the nicotine vapor of e-cigarettes may have on the lungs of users over the long term. However, it would seem to be quite clear that whatever the effects may be, they surely could not be as bad as those caused by the compendium of chemicals present in traditional cigarette smoke.
Such relative (as opposed to absolute) assessments are in fact very much in order when evaluating the health effects of e-cigarettes, due to the simple fact that one of the primary uses of the e-cigarette is that of smoking cessation aid. As Farsalinos and Polosa have put it:
“Currently available evidence indicates that electronic cigarettes are by far a less harmful alternative to smoking and significant health benefits are expected in smokers who switch from tobacco to electronic cigarettes” (paragraph 1).
Again, nicotine is a highly addictive substance and most smokers who try to quit end of failing countless times before even approaching success. In this context, replacing the traditional cigarette with the e-cigarette for these smokers could be an excellent way to help them succeed at giving up smoking. And as for nonsmokers who may jump into nicotine use with e-cigarettes alone, the point can perhaps be made that there is nothing the matter with grown adults choosing to make use of a legal and relatively safe drug for recreational purposes.
Vaping and public opinion
Despite the scientific evidence discussed above, e-cigarettes have met with condemnation from various stakeholders. The group Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, for example, has flatly declared that e-cigarettes are no safer than traditional cigarettes—a claim that is just as flatly contradicted by the extant empirical evidence on this subject.
It is quite clear that groups such as this one seem to hate the very concept of the cigarette almost on principle, or on ideological grounds: they cannot stand the cigarette, and they thus apparently also cannot stand anything that looks like or resembles a cigarette. There would seem to be no rational, scientific, or even basis for this kind of opposition to e-cigarettes. Rather, the opposition would seem to be founded on purely aesthetic or ideological grounds.
Big tobacco companies oppose vaping
One would, of course, expect the big tobacco companies like Philip Morris industry to oppose the rise of e-cigarettes, on the basis of simple economic self-interest. What is quite odd, however, is that public health agencies and advocacy groups have also come out in opposition to e-cigarettes. As Ross has sardonically indicated:
“it is the official public-health agencies, such as the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association, that are fighting this public-health miracle. Even worse, they are using tactics akin to the deceptions and manipulations we recall from the cigarette makers of the 20th century. One of their more egregious tactics is simply redefining ‘tobacco’ and ‘smoke’ to include e-cigs, which are linked to neither” (paragraph 2).
There is a clear bad faith and dishonesty in the position being advocated by such groups, insofar as it has nothing to do with the empirical evidence on the subject of the health effects of e-cigarettes. The only possible explanation is that these moves are being driven by a kind of irrational and generalized anti-smoking ideology that somehow includes e-cigarettes under its umbrella of condemnationp>
Proponents of electronic cigarettes
Vaping companies like V2 tend to make a good deal more sense and reach conclusions that are congruent with the extant empirical evidence on the relevant subject. Siegel, for example, has taken on the idea that e-cigarettes somehow prevent smokers from truly quitting smoking, pointing out:
“this is a ridiculous argument and those advancing it are not living in reality. The truth is that only 3 percent of smokers who want to quit will do so successfully in any given year. Thus the vast majority of smokers who try to quit using electronic cigarettes are people who would not have otherwise quit” (paragraph 2).
This is the same response to the possibilities provided by e-cigarettes for the cause of improved public health: Given that e-cigarettes are far less hazardous to one’s health than traditional cigarettes, the switch of a large number of traditional smokers to e-cigarettes could only be regarded as a major public health victory.
Reflection and conclusion
On the basis of the above discussion, a clear conclusion that can be drawn at the end of this present case study is that e-cigarettes are in fact far less hazardous to one’s health than traditional cigarettes. Both common sense and the scientific evidence support this idea. Reviewing the stakeholder responses against and in favor of e-cigarettes, it is self-evident that the people who are trying to frame e-cigarettes as being just as bad for the user’s health as traditional cigarettes are blatantly ignoring what the best evidence thus far has to say about this matter.
They are presumably doing so on the basis of some kind of vaguely puritanical ideology, according to which substance use, in general, is to be prohibited, no matter how relatively safe the substance and no matter what public health advantages could emerge from it. In short, the stakeholders who oppose e-cigarettes would simply seem to have an irrational hatred of anything resembling a cigarette. Although that sounds comical, there is in truth really no better way to summarize the matter.
American Cancer Society. “Carcinogens in Tobacco Products.” Author, 12 Nov. 2015. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/tobaccocancer/carcinogens-found-in-tobacco-products.
Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights. “Electronic Cigarettes.” Author, Jul. 2015. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. http://www.no-smoke.org/getthefacts.php?id=824.
Farsalinos, Konstantinos E., and Riccardo Polosa. “Safety Evaluation and Risk Assessment of Electronic Cigarettes as Tobacco Cigarette Substitutes: A Systematic Review.” Therapeutic Advances in Drug Safety 5.2 (2014): 67-86. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4110871/.
Robertson, Campbell. “New Orleans Bars Issue Last Call for Smoking.” New York Times. 22 Apr. 2015. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/23/us/new-orleans-smoking-ban.html.
Ross, Gilbert. “The Anti E-Cigarette Conspiracy.” National Review. 12 Mar. 2014. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. http://www.nationalreview.com/article/373157/anti-e-cigarette-conspiracy-gilbert-ross.
Siegel, Michael. “With E-Cigarettes, What’s Not to Like?” New York Times. 20 Aug. 2013. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/08/20/the-ambiguous-allure-of-the-e-cig/with-e-cigarettes-whats-not-to-like.
Sullum, Jacob. “Study Confirms that E-Cigarettes Generate Virtually No Toxins.” Reason. 4 Mar. 2015. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. http://reason.com/blog/2015/03/04/study-confirms-that-e-cigarettes-generat.