E-cigarette reports provide science that society craves

eva emerson
Sandy Schaffer
For much of the last year, the most-read story on sciencenews.org was not about a faraway exoplanet or a cunning creature’s adaptations to an exotic locale. It was a short report, in some ways unsurprising. In 26 different weeks since it appeared in June 2014, the story at the top of our weekly tab was Janet Raloff’s article on the emerging science about the risks of e-cigarettes. It eventually garnered almost 1.2 million unique page views.

That story also ran in the magazine (SN: 6/28/14, p. 9), but its extended life online has impressed us. People shared the article on mobile devices, circulating it well beyond our usual science-interested crew. It’s clear that people want to know about the health effects of e-cigarettes, a relatively new product that many have contended is healthier than cigarettes.

In this issue, Raloff revisits the topic, surveying a wealth of new research about the risks e-cigarettes pose. A 37-year Science News veteran who now spends most of her time running Science News for Students, Raloff was concerned to learn that vaping has exploded among teens, who are more vulnerable to nicotine’s addictive effects than adults. Her story focuses on the dangers to youth, who can legally buy e-cigarettes in some states.

E-cigarettes are advertised on TV, although in the U.S. ads for regular cigarettes are forbidden. Regulation, it seems, lags behind marketing. But that’s partly because regulators need science to make sound decisions. (Although given what’s known about nicotine, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to assume that kids shouldn’t have access to a nicotine delivery vehicle.)

The science of e-cigarettes, while new, isn’t groundbreaking in the same way as other stories in this issue (see Alexandra Witze’s report about quantum dots for biological imaging, or Nathan Seppa’s roundup on a new class of cancer drugs). But research on e-cigarettes, along with our reporting on it, fills a crucial need in science’s service to society: providing the best information available to the public, in a timely manner, so people can make wise choices. And so policymakers can use science to develop prudent guidelines for public health. It’s an important kind of science that needs to be shared with a wide audience.

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