These competing concerns leave the FDA trying to thread a particularly tricky needle: How do they get these products into the hands of the people who need them, while keeping them away from people who don’t already smoke? Vaping in general does show promise as a diversion product, even for hard-core smokers, a group of people who historically have a very hard time quitting a very dangerous habit. Because of the relative novelty of e-cigarettes, there’s no long-term data on what kind of health impacts vaping might have (and there’s little consumer transparency about what’s actually in vape juice), but medical professionals are generally doubtful that it could be worse for active smokers than continuing to smoke.
The vaping industry is in a unique spot. It can’t market its products as explicitly intended for smoking cessation, because that would open manufacturers up to the more stringent FDA regulations for medical devices instead of those for tobacco products. It also can’t market its products as a recreational option to the demographic that seems most eager to adopt them, because it’s illegal to sell tobacco to teens.
Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at www.MatthewAndMaggie.org