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EDITORIAL: ‘Blinded by ideology’

Anti-smoking zealots and tobacco prohibitionists should be celebrating the nascent vaping business as a public health wonder that could help millions of Americans put down the cancer sticks.

Instead, they’ve launched an all-out attack on the industry, primarily under the guise that e-cigarettes could tempt kids to eventually take up the smoking habit.

But a University of Michigan study released last week reveals that “most teens aren’t vaping nicotine at all but using sweet and fruity flavors like strawberry, chocolate cake and bubble gum,” The Associated Press reports. Only about 13 to 20 percent of teens said they vaped nicotine, the study found.

“The boom in youth vaping has coincided with steady declines in teen cigarette smoking,” the wire service notes. “Vaping is now more common than smoking.”

One would think anti-tobacco activists would applaud such a trend. Instead, they’ve pressured federal regulators to impose restrictions likely to cripple the e-cigarette market and drive thousands of small vaping operations out of business while empowering large tobacco companies.

Michael B. Siegel, a public health professor at Boston University, argues that these advocacy groups are woefully misguided.

“Many anti-smoking groups oppose these products because they are blinded by ideology,” he wrote in The New York Times. “They find it difficult, if not impossible, to endorse a behavior that looks like smoking, even though it is literally saving people’s lives.” Rather than disparage the products, Mr. Siegel maintains, “The FDA should embrace electronic cigarettes as legitimate harm reduction products that provide an alternative to millions of smokers who simply have not succeeded to quit using available methods.”

Instead, the FDA’s crackdown on e-cigarettes — which is being challenged in the courts — will cost lives by making it more difficult for long-time smokers to kick the nicotine addiction.

It also ignores research by Public Health England last year concluding that vaping is 95 percent safer than puffing on traditional smokes and that there is no evidence that e-cigarette use entices kids or nonsmokers to pick up the habit.

“My reading of the evidence is that smokers who switch to vaping remove almost all the risk smoking poses to their health,” said London professor Peter Hajek of the report by the British government.

The Michigan study only further undermines arguments for an aggressive public-sector effort to suppress vaping.

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