Public Health Policies on E-Cigarettes

Curr Cardiol Rep. 2019 Aug 28;21(10):111. doi: 10.1007/s11886-019-1204-y.


Tobacco continues to kill about 0.48 million Americans per year and there are currently 34.3 million smokers in the USA. As a consequence of the First Surgeon General's Report on Tobacco in 1964, tobacco control interventions on part of the government led to a significant decline in conventional tobacco product usage over the last few decades. However, more recently, a new entity in the form of electronic cigarettes has risen rapidly and has exposed a younger population to a plethora of dangerous consequences. Looking at e-cigarettes from the perspective of tobacco control however raises a lot of challenges. There is little doubt that existing smokers of combustible cigarettes who switch to e-cigarettes will be switching to a less harmful product. However, if the younger generation begins using e-cigarettes as a result of targeted marketing, appealing flavors and 'safer alternative' perception, decades of progress made in conventional tobacco control will be negated. Governments at the federal, state, and local levels have a mandate to once again implement new public health policies to ensure that non-conventional tobacco products like e-cigarettes are available as smoking cessation tools for existing smokers but at the same time do not play a role in ruining the health of future generations through addiction and disease. PURPOSE OF REVIEW: To review the present scenario of regulations and policies impacting public health with respect to electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) with the objective of providing a meaningful and balanced view of the challenges at hand with plausible recommendations. RECENT FINDINGS: Nicotine in tobacco is known to cause addiction and dependence. It is particularly potent in children and young adults. E-cigarettes can deliver high concentrations of nicotine, and these concentrations can vary depending on the numerous constituents within the e-cigarette which vary greatly from one another. Use of e-cigarettes is implicated as a risk factor for future cigarette use in young adults. Moreover, e-cigarette usage patterns also depend on several sociodemographic factors. Banning tobacco products has shown to reduce smoking risk in youth and as such, strong e-cigarette regulation measures are needed for prevention. Effective regulation of ENDS faces a multitude of challenges. One such challenge is to prevent youth and non-smokers from getting habituated to nicotine through e-cigarettes. The intention of tobacco companies to sustain sales through harmful marketing strategies that tone down the risks and highlight e-cigarettes as a "much safer alternative" while promoting flavors appealing to children should be immediately prohibited. Another hazard is the endorsement of ENDS as devices meant for enhancing social interaction which opens a path for youth to make erroneous choices under peer pressure. On the other hand, several studies have reported that e-cigarettes significantly reduce an existing smoker's risk of being exposed to toxic tobacco smoke constituents that are normally present in cigarette smoke. This leads to the conclusions that e-cigarettes can be a tool for smoking cessation for current smokers. Public policy must take a multi-dimensional approach to balance these two extremes.

Keywords: E-cigarettes; Electronic cigarettes; Electronic nicotine delivery systems; Policy; Public health; Regulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems*
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans
  • Public Health*
  • Public Policy
  • Smoking
  • Smoking Cessation*
  • United States
  • Young Adult