Jacob Sullum

The first time Tom Kiklas saw an electronic cigarette, he recalls, "I couldn't stand it … I thought, 'I don't want to be involved in this.' I'm an anti-smoking kind of guy."

But after Kiklas realized that electronic cigarettes, a.k.a. e-cigarettes, deliver nicotine without tobacco or combustion products, thereby eliminating virtually all of the health hazards associated with smoking, he was comfortable becoming media relations director for inLife, one of the companies that sell the devices in the United States. Unfortunately, many anti-smoking activists and public health officials are stuck in that first stage of visceral antipathy toward anything that resembles cigarettes, an emotional reaction that could prove deadly for smokers.

Last week, the House of Representatives approved a bill that authorizes the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate tobacco products. Lest anyone think that cigarettes will be safer as a result, the bill prohibits manufacturers from mentioning FDA regulation, saying, "consumers are likely to be confused and misled" if they know about it.

Meanwhile, supporters of the bill, which the Senate will consider later this year, are demanding that the FDA ban e-cigarettes, a potentially life-saving alternative for smokers, as unauthorized drug delivery devices. Last month, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who brags that he is "one of the Senate's leaders in protecting Americans from the dangers of smoking," urged the FDA to take e-cigarettes off the market "until they are proven safe." The next day, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids applauded Lautenberg's position.

Michael Siegel, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, did not. "This is about as idiotic and irrational an approach as I have ever seen in my 22 years in tobacco control and public health," he wrote on his blog. "A public policy maker who touts himself as being a champion of the public's health as well as some of the leading national health advocacy organizations is demanding that we ban what is clearly a much safer cigarette than those on the market, but that we allow, protect, approve and institutionalize the really toxic ones."

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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