“Before I quit smoking, I was coughing like crazy,” said Mr. D’Angelo, whose mother, a three-pack-a-day smoker, died of emphysema at age 69. Vaping, he said, “really helped me get off cigarettes.”
“Now if I can help someone stop smoking and add five or six years to their life,” he added, “I’ve accomplished something.”
Several public health physicians, asked if vaping is safe, were unanimous: It is safer than smoking tobacco — which involves inhaling tar and 7,000-plus chemicals, 50 of which are carcinogens — but not definitively harm-free.
“The jury’s still out,” said Dr. Michael Fiore, founder and director of the University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention, a 25-year-old program.
“One issue has remarkably divided the public health community,” Dr. Fiore said. “Some feel e-cigarettes are a remarkably positive force” for weaning smokers from tobacco use, “and some feel they are a remarkably negative force.”
“The thing pretty much everyone agrees on,” he said, “is that all youth should be protected from any tobacco or nicotine products. There’s lots of data to support that.”
A government report found that 16 percent of high school students said they had used e-cigarettes in 2015, up from 1.5 percent in 2011. Particularly worrisome to the medical community are e-cigarettes marketed in child-friendly flavors like bubble gum and cotton candy.
“E-cigarettes are markedly less dangerous than combustible tobacco, but markedly less dangerous doesn’t mean safe,” Dr. Fiore said.
The products have certainly become widely available. Vape shops have popped up all over the country, in part because the barriers to entry are low. According to the American Vaping Association, there are 10,000 to 15,000 vape shops nationally, employing 50,000 to…