本期经济学人杂志【Leaders】板块的这篇题为《Don’t panic about e-cigarettes》的文章关注的是近年来流行的电子烟带来的问题，有些国家和地区开始禁止电子烟销售，但文章认为禁止电子烟合法销售带来的危害要比好处大，与其粗暴禁止不如加强监管和指导。
美国目前有 1100 万人使用电子烟，在 6 人死于电子烟后，有人呼吁远离电子烟。但调查发现这六个人中有五人使用的电子烟不是正规商店的产品，而是路边的劣质品。剩下的一个死者的电子烟是从合法大麻商店购买的。
吸电子烟有害身心健康，吸入的水雾中含有的尼古丁容易让人成瘾，其中包含的一些化学物质也可能对人体有害。但电子烟对人体的危害远没有传统烟草（tobacco）来的大，传统烟草每年导致 45 万美国人死亡，全球 700 万人死亡，因此使用电子烟替代传统烟草可能挽救生命。
对电子烟的最大担忧是它可能造就新一代的尼古丁瘾君子，他们中的很多人以前从未吸过烟，尤其是一些小孩子，其中美国就有 1/4 的高中生吸电子烟。对电子烟危害的担忧让埃及、墨西哥、新加坡等国禁止了电子烟。但文章认为简单地禁止电子烟并不是一个好方法，这会让吸电子烟的人去购买危害更大的非法劣质品，也让那些守法的传统烟草吸食者无法转向危害小的电子烟。
Don’t panic about e-cigarettes
The vice of vaping
Don’t panic about e-cigarettes
Banning them all will cause far more harm than good
“IT’S TIME to stop vaping,” says Lee Norman, a health official in Kansas. Six people are dead in America, apparently from smoking e-cigarettes. More than 450 have contracted a serious lung disease. So Mr Norman’s advice sounds reasonable. The Centres for Disease Control and the American Medical Association agree: the country’s 11m vapers should quit. A new idea is circulating, that vaping is worse than smoking. On September 11th the Trump administration said it intends to ban non-tobacco flavoured vaping fluid (see article). Some politicians want a broader ban on all e-cigarettes.
The facts have gone up in smoke, as so often happens during health scares. Although more research is needed, the evidence so far suggests that the recent vaping deaths in America did not come from products bought in a shop but from badly made items sold on the street. In five out of six cases, the tainted vaping products were bought illicitly; the other involved liquid bought in a legal cannabis shop in Oregon. One theory is that the vape fluid was mixed with vitamin E. This is an oil—something that should not enter the lungs. If inhaled, oil causes the type of symptoms that the stricken vapers display.
America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is investigating the products involved, rightly refuses to panic. It says vapers should not buy products containing cannabis extract, or those sold on the street. This is sensible. When you buy an unlicensed liquid from an unregulated supplier, you have no idea what you are puffing. This is why governments also discourage people from drinking moonshine spirits, which are sometimes deadly. In Costa Rica, for example, 25 people recently died from imbibing hooch contaminated with methanol. However, just as with alcohol, regulators should draw a distinction between illicit products and the legal, unadulterated sort.
E-cigarettes are not good for you. The vapour that vapers inhale is laced with nicotine, which is addictive. Some of the other chemicals in it may be harmful. But vaping is far less dangerous than smoking tobacco—a uniquely deadly product. If people turn to e-cigarettes as a substitute for the conventional sort, the health benefits are potentially huge. Smoking kills 450,000 Americans every year, and a staggering 7m people worldwide. Anything that weans people off tobacco is likely to save lives.
The big worry about e-cigarettes is that they will create a new generation of nicotine addicts. Some people who have never previously smoked have taken up vaping, including a worrying number of children. In America, for example, one quarter of high-school pupils vape.
This is alarming, and helps explain why so many governments, such as those of Egypt, Mexico, Singapore, Taiwan and Brazil, have banned e-cigarettes. They should not. Prohibition usually causes more harm than good. Forbidding e-cigarettes will lead vapers to buy illicit products—the type that are far more likely to poison them. It will also deter many law-abiding smokers from switching to something less deadly.
For these reasons, regulating vaping is wiser than trying to eliminate it. Governments should carefully control what goes into vape fluid, following the example of the European Union, which restricts the amount of nicotine it may contain. America’s FDA, by contrast, seems constantly to change its mind about how to regulate vaping. Governments should also regulate how e-cigarettes are advertised. Marketing aimed at children is obviously unacceptable. So, perhaps, are fruity flavours that appeal especially to young palates. Government health warnings should be clear and measured. Vaping may be a dangerous habit, but it is vastly less deadly than lighting up.■
This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline "Don’t panic"