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January 8, 2014

Promise and Peril of e-CigarettesCan Disruptive Technology Make Cigarettes Obsolete?

Author Affiliations
  • 1The Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies at Legacy, Department of Health, Behavior and Society, The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland
  • 2Department of Oncology (adjunct), Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, DC
  • 3Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, Washington, DC
JAMA. 2014;311(2):135-136. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.285347

Despite extraordinary success, progress has stalled in reducing premature deaths from tobacco (primarily caused by cigarettes or other combusting tobacco products and not by nicotine per se). The dominance of cigarettes over the past 100 years (the cigarette century) threatens to persist for another century.

Two philosophies have dominated tobacco control: abstinence and harm reduction. Abstinence implies avoiding all tobacco use behavior because there is no safe tobacco or nicotine level. If avoidance is not practical or realistic, harm reduction sets a goal that minimizes the harm caused by the behavior. Tension between reduction and abstinence advocates can be divisive. The rapid rise in the use and popularity of e-cigarettes has substantially increased this tension because of their potential for harm reduction. Although still variable in quality, appeal, and efficient nicotine delivery, e-cigarettes represent an evolving frontier, filled with promise and peril for tobacco control practitioners, policy makers, and regulators.

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