IN JULY, THE Food and Drug Administration (FDA) extended the deadline for e-cigarette manufacturers to seek regulatory approval of their products. On the face of it, the change was merely a four-year stay of execution. But the agency also signaled a new receptiveness to vaping as a harm-reducing alternative to smoking, which suggests the reprieve could turn into a commutation.
That would be good news for smokers who want to quit. For too long, American public health officials have been unreasonably hostile to e-cigarettes, which deliver nicotine in an aerosol that is far less hazardous than tobacco smoke and offers a closer simulation of the real thing than nicotine gum or patches do.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb seems to appreciate the public health potential of this innovation. "The overwhelming amount of death and disease attributable to tobacco is caused by addiction to cigarettes," he said in a press release. "Envisioning a world where cigarettes would no longer create or sustain addiction, and where adults who still need or want nicotine could get it from alternative and less harmful sources, needs to be the cornerstone of our efforts."
The FDA said "a key piece" of its new approach is "demonstrating a greater awareness that nicotine--while highly addictive--is delivered through products that represent a continuum of risk and is most harmful when delivered through smoke particles in combustible cigarettes." The agency wants to strike "an appropriate balance between regulation and encouraging...