We rarely think of smoking as technology, but the delivery mechanism for nicotine has long been a function of technology. We use technology to add filters to cigarettes in an attempt to make them less bad for you; we use technology to craft the cigarettes themselves; we employ medical technology to provide you with various means of quitting smoking once you are addicted to it. But in the last few years, technology – and our increasingly invasive government’s compulsion to regulate technology – has become much more relevant to the pastime and health hazard that is smoking cigarettes. This is “vaping,” the use of so-called “e-cigarettes” to deliver nicotine in water vapor.

The e-cigarette is an electronic device that uses electric power and comes in a variety of styles and formats. A typical e-cigarette is a rechargeable unit to which nicotine liquid or cartridges are introduced. There is no flame, no smoke and, arguably, no ill health effects for those nearby, unlike the dangers presented by second-hand smoke from traditional cigarettes. Because it is new and because it expels only water vapor, the e-cigarette has enjoyed a kind of legal gray area in which smokers – long accustomed to being second-hand citizens consigned to remote corners of the properties they occupy – began boldly smoking (err, vaping) in front of other people again. Initial outrage over such temerity gradually gave way to grudging acceptance. Our knee-jerk reaction, “Hey! That guy is … GASP … SMOKING IN PUBLIC!” became, “Hey! That guy is … Oh. I see the blue light. It’s one of those electronic thingies.”

The rise in popularity of the e-cigarette has brought the inevitable attention of your all-powerful government. Governments cannot abide anything the people enjoy. Anything that is too popular MUST be regulated and taxed if not outright banned, lest the citizenry begin getting ideas that it is free to live as its constituent members choose. It is no surprise, then, that e-cigarettes have become the constant target of government attacks intended to regulate them and/or ban their use.

When the libs succeeded in nationalizing American health care they solidified their hold on control of your life because they now control your access to medical insurance. A new report this week from Michelle Andrews asserts that e-cigarette users may end up paying more for health insurance if insurers classify the battery-powered devices as “tobacco products.”

The irony, however, is that e-cigarettes may actually help smokers to stop using traditional cigarettes (and perhaps to quit smoking altogether). The Journal “Addiction” recently featured a U.K. study claiming the switch to e-cigarettes helps smokers quit: “According to the study authors, smoking kills an estimated 6 million people around the world each year. … By providing a vapor containing nicotine without tobacco combustion, e-cigarettes appear to reduce craving and withdrawal associated with abstinence in smokers while toxicity testing suggests that they are much safer to the user than ordinary cigarettes.”

Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco, however, claim to have discovered just the opposite. The researchers found “that e-cigarettes actually reduce the likelihood that people will quit smoking, in contrast to advertising claims that firing up an e-cig will help people kick the habit,” according to Andrews. “The potential role of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool has insurance coverage implications too. The health law requires most health plans to cover FDA-approved smoking cessation products and counseling without any out-of-pocket cost to consumers. The federal government recently released guidance clarifying which services and products must be covered. … Since e-cigarettes aren’t FDA-approved for quitting smoking – and in fact are on the brink of being labeled by the agency to warrant regulation like cigarettes – they aren’t covered as a free preventive benefit under the law.”

Then, too, there is a growing awareness of health risks specific to e-cigarettes. Dina Fine Maron, writing in Scientific American, underscores the dangers. “E-cigs use a small, heated coil to vaporize a nicotine-laced solution into an aerosol mist. By inhaling the mist, users enjoy the same satisfaction they would get from an ordinary cigarette but do not expose themselves to tobacco, which turns into cancer-causing tar when it is burned. … But are e-cigs truly safe? No one knows for sure. … In lieu of carcinogenic tobacco, e-cigarettes typically contain three main ingredients: nicotine, a flavoring of some kind and propylene glycol – a syrupy synthetic liquid added to food, cosmetics, and certain medicines to absorb water and help them stay moist. … ‘We have little information about what happens to propylene glycol in the air,’ the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says on its website. …”

Worse, Maron explains, are the dangers from the heavy metals used in e-cigarettes. “Various studies suggest the vapors from e-cigarettes contain several cancer-causing substances,” she writes, “as well as incredibly tiny particles of tin, chromium, nickel and other heavy metals, which, in large enough concentrations, can damage the lungs. These particles likely fleck off the solder joints or metal coil in the devices when heated. Because they are so small, the tiniest bits of metal, known as nanoparticles, can travel deep into the lungs. There they could exacerbate asthma, bronchitis – an inflammation of the tubes that carry air to and from the lungs – and emphysema – a disease in which the lungs’ many air sacs are destroyed, leaving patients short of breath. So far there are not enough data to say with certainty whether e-cigs worsen these disorders.”

Smoking is legal. In a free society, smoking should remain legal. Smoking is also very dangerous and one of the worst habits, from a health perspective, that a human being can adopt. Whether e-cigarette technology helps smokers quit or is itself dangerous to human health is irrelevant. If we are free, our citizens should be free to smoke or vape as they choose. The unintended consequences of regulating or banning e-cigarettes might do more harm than good. We don’t yet know (and it doesn’t matter).

We will all be better off when fewer of us smoke. It is the individual, not his government, who makes this change. That change is, individually and across society, a matter of choice and not coercion.

Media wishing to interview Phil Elmore, please contact [email protected].

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.