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The American Surgeon General published the very first federal government report linking smoking and ill health half a century ago. The report also demanded that the American government take proper remedial action to reduce the harm caused by smoking.

Ever since then the portion of Americans who light up has fallen from 42% to 18% and then in some states the portion of regular smokers can almost be counted in single figures. Similar reductions have occurred elsewhere. Almost half the UK population smoked in 1974. Now, less than a quarter do. The figures around australia are even healthier.

This is good news because smoking causes a number of different diseases and is also the main reason for preventable deaths in numerous countries. Indeed, smoking might have killed as many as 100m folks the 20th century and the World Health Organisation estimates the figure for the twenty-first century can be quite a mind-boggling 1 billion.

About 50 years ago another significant “smoking related” event happened: the first e-cigarette was patented. This was a device that produced vapour from tobacco without combustion. For a lot of decades “vaping” remained a minority activity. But over the past several years these not-quite-so newfangled nicotine delivery devices are becoming rather popular. And concern has become raised over their use and particularly uptake among young people. While figures from Ash advise a negligible number of vape pen explodes, a newly released US-based study found that the proportion of middle and school students in the usa who had ever used an e-cigarette a lot more than doubled between 2011-2012. Some analysts have even predicted that vaping can become popular than smoking inside a decade.

Modern e-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that vaporise nicotine for inhalation. They normally contain a cartridge containing liquid nicotine and a heating element designed to produce an aerosol. Many also include flavourings like menthol – a fact which was criticised on the grounds that flavourings could make e-cigarettes more attractive to children.

Although vaping (and passive vaping) may be safer than smoking (and passive smoking) numerous toxicological analyses have revealed that e-cigarettes contain many dangerous chemicals. The great thing is that e-cigarettes are primarily used by people as being a popular smoking cessation aid. But it’s far from clear how effective e-cigarettes have been in helping people to quit smoking in the long term. More worryingly, some studies have shown that a number of “never smokers” have tried vaping. This can be of particular concern because e-cigarettes could act as a “gateway drug” to conventional cigarettes.

The relative lack of evidence concerning the safety, effectiveness and ultimate impact of e-cigarettes has resulted in the adoption of radically different strategies to the import, production, sale, distribution and advertising of these devices. Some countries, such as Argentina, effectively prohibited them. But most jurisdictions allow e-cigarettes to get sold and consumed susceptible to varying degrees of regulation. The EU, for example, is taking a relatively hard line, however it is unclear at this stage what impact these new rules will have.

Ethically speaking, it would seem smart to be wary. E-cigarettes may not represent a modern Trojan horse, however the recent interest shown by tobacco companies in these devices should provide us with all pause for thought. This does not necessarily mean that vaping ought to be entirely proscribed. Quite apart from the simple fact that our liberty rights dictate otherwise, there exists, as noted above, good reason to consider that e-cigarettes are less dangerous than regular cigarettes so the net impact on health (and longevity) could very well htkcbf positive.

But because of the serious risk that vaping might re-glamourise smoking, especially amongst the young, a cautious regulatory approach is warranted. This ought to add a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to children as well as a New York City-style ban on vaping in public indoor spaces and private offices. Additionally, it seems eminently sensible to put in place regulations to make sure that the marketing of e-cigarettes is fixed to current smokers.

Many will complain this too many restrictions on the sale and consumption is going to be counter-productive. Some experts have even claimed that quality control regulation is, pretty much, all that is required, and that vaping could make smoking redundant. But this approach seems overly lax. All things considered, there’s (usually) no vapour without fire.