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The Heartland Institute does not deny that smoking is an unhealthy habit. But today’s taxes and bans go far beyond a reasonable public policy response to a public health problem.

The quit-or-die strategy has long-caused smoking rates to stagnate. But e-cigarettes and other vapor products, unlike their pharmaceutical counterparts, could break the stalemate and help smokers eventually to quit — or at minimum switch to a much less harmful product and save lives. Do not treat e-cigarettes the same as traditional tobacco products. E-cigarette sales to minors should be prohibited but policymakers should classify and regulate these harm reduction products separately.

But the federal government is getting in the way. Learn more about the issue on this Heartland Ideas Page, as well as these searches for the terms e-cigarette and vaping at Heartland's PolicyBot database.

What Are Electronic Cigarettes?

Electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigarettes,” and vaporized nicotine products, or vaping devices, have become one of the most popular and effective nicotine replacement products on the market – a key building block in tobacco harm reduction strategies. Neilsen data set e-cigarette sales at $850 million in 2015, not including vape shops and online purchases, and Wells Fargo research estimates that vaping is a $2.5 billion industry in the United States.

E-cigarettes and vaping devices produce a vapor of water, propylene glycol or glycerin, nicotine, and flavors – without the thousands of harmful compounds found in tobacco smoke. They are an excellent substitute to traditional tobacco cigarettes because they deliver nicotine in customizable doses, and simulate the behaviors of smoking. Electronic cigarettes and vaping products contain no tobacco and nothing is combusted. There is a wide agreement in public health that the chemicals in smoke – not the nicotine – cause death and disease.

Are E-Cigarettes Less Harmful than Traditional Tobacco Cigarettes?

According to Dr. Joel Nitzkin, a public health physician, “E-cigarette fluid consists of purified nicotine, propylene glycol (used in theatrical fog and some asthma inhalers), vegetable glycerin, flavoring and distilled water. No nicotine-delivery product can be considered totally risk free. E-cigarettes present a risk of potentially serious illness similar to the risk posed by pharmaceutical nicotine-replacement therapy gum, patches, lozenges and inhalers. This is a level of risk estimated to be well under 2 percent the risk posed by cigarettes.” Adult smokers should not be discouraged from using e-cigarettes.

Are E-Cigarettes a Gateway to Smoking?

Some critics fear electronic cigarettes are a “gateway” to smoking. However, surveys consistently find that recent use of electronic cigarettes by nonsmokers is well below 1% of the population. According to a report by R Street, “One study published online in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health and co-authored by Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Tobacco Consortium, was able to find only six nonsmokers who had ever used e-cigarettes in a national survey of 3,240 adults, including 1,802 non-smokers.”

Are Flavored E-Cigarettes Marketed to Appeal to Minors?

Flavored e-cigarettes appeal to adults and are not marketed to minors.

A recent survey of more than 10,000 adult e-cigarette users found 74 percent of respondents use flavors other than tobacco, while only 23 percent preferred tobacco flavoring. Flavors and marketing should be protected, as flavors play a valuable role in helping smokers quit and marketing allows smokers to become aware of the availability and variety of e-cigarette products available.

Some tobacco control organizations see no difference between cigarettes and e-cigarettes and insist the two products be taxed similarly. However, e-cigarettes are a completely different product than traditional combustible cigarettes and therefore should be regulated and taxed differently. Excise taxes should not be enacted on vapor products as that would make the products less appealing to people trying to quit smoking traditional cigarettes.

Nicotine replacement therapy, quitting cold turkey, and other methods work for some smokers, they don’t work for most. Current smokers should be educated about ways they can reduce the harm by shifting to less-hazardous products that provide similar enjoyment. Switching from cigarettes to smokeless tobacco products or electronic cigarettes dramatically reduces the health risk.

Some critics aren’t familiar with the latest evidence showing electronic cigarettes are effective at helping smokers quit. Over the past several years, several million cigarette smokers worldwide have quit smoking or dramatically reduced their cigarette consumption thanks to the use of smoke-free, combustible-free, and sometimes nicotine-free electronic cigarettes.

Where to Go for More Information

The Heartland Institute published in 2017 Vaping, E-Cigarettes, and Public Policy Toward Alternatives to Smoking, a policy booklet written by Dr. Brad Rodu, Heartland Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans, and Heartland Government Relations Coordinator Lindsey Stroud. The publication outlines the history of tobacco harm reduction, educates on the science and mechanics of electronic cigarettes, and offers policy suggestions. Heartland has also distributed thousands of copies of Helping Smokers Quit, a publication written by Dr. Brad Rodu and published by the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH).


A few credible and interesting people who write frequently on tobacco harm reduction issues are Jacob Sullum, Jeff Stier, Dr. Brad Rodu, Bill Godshall, Gregory Conley, Dr. Gil Ross, and Dr. Joel Nitzkin.

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