E-cigarettes aren't threatening the progress of continued smoking reduction. They are helping even hard-core cigarette smokers quit.
If society gives equal treatment to these two very different products with dramatically different health risks, we will undermine e-cigarettes' promise as powerful harm reduction tools.
OUR VIEW: Vaping clouds progress on teen smoking
As Mitch Zeller, the Food and Drug Administration's chief tobacco regulator, put it, "People smoke for the nicotine, but die from the tar." The public health community — which has long advocated for the concept of harm reduction — should rally behind electronic cigarettes rather than sow fear about them.
One claim is that e-cigarettes appeal to minors who use them as a gateway to smoking. Yet evidence doesn't support this. The most often-cited basis for this theory is a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that e-cigarette use recently tripled among teens.
However, you can't tell from this 2013 survey whether the teens tried an e-cigarette just once in the past month and never used them, let alone actual cigarettes, again.
Governments can address any problem of teen use of e-cigarettes without undermining the product's potential to help adult smokers.
Yet regulators are pondering rules that won't prevent underage use and aren't supported by science, such as bans on vaping in restaurants, bars and in parks, while about 20% of states and the federal government have failed to simply ban sales to minors.
Some heavy-handed rules are already undermining the public health goal. Consider adults in New York and Los Angeles who quit smoking by using e-cigarettes.
Misguided laws in their cities now require them to go outside of bars, together with smokers, where the risk of relapsing to smoking is great.
Scientists across the spectrum recognize that e-cigarettes are dramatically less harmful than combustible tobacco cigarettes. As such, society should treat them accordingly.
Jeff Stier is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, which receives 1.4% of its support from the tobacco and e-cigarette industry.