In 2014, the Oxford English Dictionary christened “vape” the Word of the Year. The designation was a tribute to the impressive rise of the electronic cigarette, a battery-powered device that heats a flavored solution containing nicotine and converts it into an inhalable, or “vape-able,” aerosol.

By the close of 2013, six years after e-cigarettes became available in the United States, sales had surpassed $1 billion, prompting financial analysts to proclaim them a threat to cigarette sales. Observers hailed e-cigarettes as “among the most significant public-health innovations of modern times” and a “disruptive technology” poised to “revolutionize” public health.

Invented for smokers who cannot or will not quit, e-cigarettes do not burn tobacco, and therefore emit a mere fraction of the carcinogens and hazardous gases than do conventional cigarettes. This means vaping is substantially less harmful than smoking, which causes roughly 480,000 American deaths each year. Today, roughly 11 million adults use electronic cigarettes. With the exception of quitting cold-turkey, vaping is not only the most popular strategy but the most effective.

In other welcome news, early fears that e-cigarettes would “re-normalize” smoking among adults and lead teens to take up smoking have not materialized. And if over the next 10 years the nation’s smokers switched to vaping, according to conservative demographic estimates, more than 1.6 million premature deaths could be averted by 2100. In short, e-cigarettes offered a potent alternative to cigarettes, which Stanford historian of science Robert Procter has aptly called “the deadliest artifact in the history of human civilization.”

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Sally Satel – National Affairs – Spring 2020.

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