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Reader's view: Caution needed before approving e-cigarettes

The Sept. 1 article, "Debate rages over e-cigarette rules in Duluth," deserves attention. Advocates for easy access to e-cigs complain that members of the medical community are overreacting to the fact that the benefits and side effects of e-cigs...

The Sept. 1 article, "Debate rages over e-cigarette rules in Duluth," deserves attention. Advocates for easy access to e-cigs complain that members of the medical community are overreacting to the fact that the benefits and side effects of e-cigs have not been carefully studied and that most of the enthusiasm about e-cigs is based on testimonials from individuals. As Brian Annis was quoted as saying in the article, this is an example of being "guilty until proven innocent."

But there is more to the story.

In the 1950s a new drug called thalidomide was marketed for the treatment of morning sickness in pregnant women. It worked so well that in some European countries it was made available over the counter; no prescription was required. And then the babies were born. Thousands of infants had abnormal or missing portions of arms and legs. Some had heart problems or were deaf or blind.

Thalidomide certainly was not the only drug to cause dreadful and unsuspected side effects. That is why new drugs and new devices must be so carefully studied before being approved for general use. And even then, when a new drug is used in several thousand patients, problems may appear that were not evident when the drug was tested in only several hundred patients.

Clearly, e-cigs help some smokers quit. But how many users experience no benefit? How many users become ill and must quit?

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There are 250 versions of e-cigs on the market, and the exact mix of ingredients is not known for most of them. Which ones are safe to use? Which ones are not?

Painful experience has taught us to be cautious until we know both what is good and not good about every new medical product, including e-cigs.

Dr. Terry Clark

Duluth

The writer is an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth.

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