It will be quite obvious to anyone following the e-cigarette trend that when smokers started switching here and there that the news reports were for the most part positive. In general, the articles described how smokers who had tried to quit more than once, and through all the usual methods, finally had found something that worked. They quit smoking, their immediate health improved and since they had solved that constant irritation of worrying about the risks of doing something they felt they could not stop doing, they were also much happier.
And then the tide turned.
Scanning the web or the papers, almost every article is now about the potential dangers of e-cigarettes and typically concludes with the suggestion that they should be removed from the market until extensive testing (over time) has proven their long term safety.
Nobody can really argue with that except for the not so minor point that smoking already exists.
If using electronic cigarettes resulted in one out of a hundred users contracting pancreatic cancer (and no one is claiming this, nor is it remotely likely) it would seem like a particularly dangerous product and smokers knowing that would probably not switch to it. And yet, it would still be much much safer than smoking.
The problem right now is that it is much safer for authorities to err on the side of caution. If you say e-cigarettes will sicken some people and they do, you feel that you have at least warned people. If no one gets sick then your reputation is still intact (you were just being cautious). If you say e-cigarettes are safe and some people sicken, then you appear to have abdicated your position of maintaining public safety.
Yet those relationships only hold when there is no real world context. In this case, if you say e-cigarettes are harmful and smokers avoid them because of that, you have in fact failed to protect smokers.
All risks occur in a larger context.
I sit at my terminal and type encouraging obesity, muscle degeneration and carpal tunnel syndrome. I decide to exercise instead and encourage muscle injury and possible long term disability. I drive to see a movie with a friend and risk an accident or stay at home watching a dvd and face social isolation which has its own risks. Perhaps an increase in my drinking.
Life is a balancing act with few absolutes. Knowing relative risks is a lot more useful than how harmful some behavior or substance might be in isolation. Because, being alive is all about doing things, its all about accumulating risks.
-Paul L. Bergen