There is a rift in the world of e-cigarettes, and both sides are public-health experts.
In the United States, tobacco-control advocates have taken a hard line on e-cigarettes, treating them as no different and no safer than regular cigarettes. Across the pond, top U.K. doctors and health authorities have a more permissive stance, suggesting e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to cigarettes. They’re both right, in a way, and the debate is really over who you're focusing on when you ask if e-cigs are safer—smokers or non smokers?
E-cigarettes vaporize liquid that usually contains nicotine, and they do not involve any burning of tobacco—which eliminates the smoke that causes most of cigarettes’ ill effects. So in a strict comparison of e-cigarettes and cigarettes, the former is not as dangerous. In the U.K., public-health officials want to use e-cigarettes to get people to quit smoking. In the U.S., officials worry that e-cigarettes will entice new users, who would have never gotten addicted to nicotine otherwise.
It’s in this context that the U.S. surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, today issued a report on e-cigarette use in teens and young adults—the most critical demographic if you’re worrying about new users. The report is unequivocal in its warnings. E-cigarette use among high school students in the U.S. has grown 900 percent since 2011, as vape shops have become ubiquitous. The report also laid out the scientific evidence that young people with developing brains are particularly sensitive to nicotine, which is a highly addictive substance. And it criticized the industry for marketing to teens with candy-flavored vape juice.