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Keywords:

  • Electronic cigarette;
  • harm reduction;
  • nicotine

ABSTRACT

Concerns have been raised that the advent of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) may be harmful to public health, and smokers have been advised by important agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration not to use them. This paper argues that, while more research is needed on the cost–benefit equation of these products and the appropriate level and type of regulation for them, the harms have tended thus far to be overstated relative to the potential benefits. In particular: concern over repeated inhalation of propylene glycol is not borne out by toxicity studies with this compound; risk of accidental poisoning is no different from many household devices and chemicals available in supermarkets; concern that e-cigarettes may promote continued smoking by allowing smokers to cope with no-smoking environments is countered by the observation that most smokers use these products to try to quit and their use appears to enhance quitting motivation; concerns over low nicotine delivery are countered by evidence that the products provide significant craving reduction despite this in some cases; and e-cigarettes may help reduce toxin exposure to non-smokers.