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Tempers flare, accusations fly, in vaping controversies

Tempers flared this past week in the vaping products debate, as accusations, diatribes, and slurs flew back and forth with wild abandon. As usual, much of the heated rhetoric was based on half-syllogisms, where the clinching final premise is an unsupported conjecture.

Yes more youths tried e-cigs in the past year, but were they doing it to quit smoking or to start? Vaping opponents say the latter, and as proof they triumphantly offer... the hypothesis they set out to prove. With statistics from other sources showing a reduction in youth smoking for the same period, that's a bold, not to say foolhardy, jump, acceptable only because of the extreme self-perceived righteousness of their cause.

Yes e-cig ads are slick and rely on celebrity images popular in a pervasively youth-oriented culture. Does that make the product an evil because deceptive advertising of combustible cigarettes was evil? Is slick advertising alone enough to damn a product? Vaping opponents think so, and as proof they triumphantly offer... their disgust with the image of someone who looks like he's smoking a cigarette.

Yes candy flavors are all the rage. Does that imply that under-18s are intentionally targeted? Vaping opponents think so. And as proof they triumphantly offer... their conjecture that it is so.

Part of the problem is that important distinctions are getting blurred. One of the most important is the distinction between the e-cigs being marketed by independent companies who have never sold poisonous cigarettes and those marketed by the new bullies on the block, Big Tobacco companies. When US senators ripped into e-cig execs last week they were talking to a couple of founders of independent e-cig companies, one of whom (Craig Weiss of NJOY) remains independent, the other of whom (Jason Healy of Blu) is now owned by a Big Tobacco company (Lorillard). Another executive voice that chimed in, although not present at the Senate grilling, was the head of an independent company who came to it from a long career with Big Tobacco (Miguel Martin of Logic, formerly of Altria).

Not only are career trajectories a tangled skein, so are motivations. There are knowledgeable voices in the vaping community that think Martin's offer to curtail flavors at Logic is a sly ruse calculated to grab a bigger market share by making a seemingly praiseworthy end run around less affluent competitors.

The language of the Time Magazine article on the Senate grilling of Weiss and Healy is tinged with hostility. The article says "they slouched in their chairs" for "they sat", "they were skewered" for "they were subjected to hostile questions", and introduces the aforementioned half-syllogisms with "[the senators] had the facts on their side." Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish the senators' angry voices from the journalist's.

The article does finally concede that the e-cig CEOs "aren’t wrong that electronic cigarettes hold promise to improve the nation’s well-being if they can get America’s smokers off of combustible cigarettes–a view held by many in public health." Then we have the obligatory nod to the idea that smoking-cessation efficacy of e-cigs is an unknown – an idea increasingly proven incorrect what with some of the studies coming to light in the past few months, but nonetheless still de rigeur in such articles – and the paragraph concludes with a moderate voice from, of all people, Mitch Zeller of the FDA, who vows that his agency will keep "an open mind".

If nothing else, these mud-slinging free-for-alls underscore the need to establish effective controls on the sales ban to under 18s. It is time to move beyond "Leave this site if you are under 18." Sale to minors can be prevented, and it must be if the vaping industry, and the vaping community is to continue to thrive. And effective childproofing of e-liquid containers is another must, in order to polish the good name of vaping. Such measures, along with increasing publicity for the growing body of scientific literature showing e-cig success in smoking cessation, will secure a future of declining cigarette use and rising e-cig use.