Cigarettes continue to kill a half million Americans every year while holding 100 fold that number in addiction s deadly grasp. Yet a perverse crusade has spread like a contagion across the nation to ban or restrict access to electronic cigarettes (e cigs), which have harmed no one and allowed many to quit smoking.

Now that anti science fervor has spread to the state Legislature, where three separate bills would combine to condemn desperate addicted smokers to lingering death.

It s a bizarre through the looking glass situation banning e cigs even as cigarettes, the most lethal nicotine delivery system, are marketed as they ve been for decades.

Shortly after the Food and Drug Administration got authority over tobacco products in 2009, the agency decided that e cigs were in fact unapproved cessation medication and moved to ban them, going so far as to intercept imports from China. Legal action by several e cig marketers resulted in a slapdown from a federal judge, who agreed with the companies that e cigs were not medicinals and forbade the FDA from barring their entry.

Since then, official statements from all the federal public health agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control, have uniformly warned desperate smokers not to even try e cigs to help them quit.

The FDA just announced rules that, while overly restrictive (e.g., they don t let companies state the clear truth that e cigs are much safer than regular cigarettes), won t go far enough for the zealots. So you can expect a continued push in the Legislature for a total or partial ban despite the facts.

Most smokers want to quit, and over half try each year. They mostly fail, however The FDA approved cessation aids succeed about once in 10 tries, barely better than quitting cold turkey.

Millions of ex smokers have figured this out, despite the official warnings E cig sales are skyrocketing while cigarettes are in historic declines. These ex smokers have become vapers instead of smoking, they are vaping e cigs.

Why do e cigs help smokers quit when the patches, gums and drugs fail? A combination of factors The nicotine dose is sufficient to satisfy that powerful craving, and use of the e cig reflects the rituals of smoking the hand to mouth motions, the glowing LED tip and the inhaled and exhaled plume or mist. Many also prefer flavored vapes.

None of these factors are to be found in the approved products, which are (by the way) much more expensive than e cigs.

Another attraction for smokers is the relatively low cost of e cigs, compared to cigarettes (and compared to the nicotine patches so beloved of the FDA and other federal agencies).

But one New York bill would institute an exorbitant tax on e cigs, which have previously not been targeted with tobacco like excise taxes. The tax would actually make e cigs as expensive as the real, deadly cigarettes. This seems like the opposite of a public health measure to me.

Moreover, their anticipated revenue windfall will not materialize, as vapers will simply get their e cigs via the Internet or from out of state.

One of the most bogus concerns is that e cigs will be a gateway to nicotine addiction and smoking. The data suggest just the opposite Teen smoking rates have fallen significantly in recent years, even as e cig use has soared.

Banning vaping as though it was smoking due to second hand vapor is ridiculous on its face Vapor is mostly water, and the chemicals in it are in such low concentrations (as confirmed in academic analysis) so as not to be a threat to anyone.

The politicians seeking to ban and tax e cigs say it s in the interests of public health. In fact, such measures are antithetical to public health, and would protect cigarette markets by reducing access to a successful quit smoking method. If these bills become law, they ll simply be a death sentence for smokers who just want to quit.

Dr. Gilbert Ross is is executive and medical director at the American Council on Science and Health.

How amazon forced cvs to stop selling cigarettes

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Photo Kristoffer Tripplaar/Sipa USA/AP

Pharmacy giant CVS is booting cigarettes and other tobacco products from its stores. The change has earned CVS showers of praise, including from the White House, but there s one player not getting the credit it should Amazon.

As the pharmacy chain was getting all those plaudits yesterday, Amazon said that its iOS app would soon let you place an order simply by pointing your iPhone camera at a product no barcode scan needed. The two events may seem completely unconnected, but they re tied together like to borrow a phrase from Amazon s playbook a gazelle and a cheetah.

Though the CVS no tobacco decision seems like good corporate citizenship, it s also about staying one step ahead of Amazon s relentless campaign to eviscerate brick and mortar businesses.

The new Flow feature in Amazon s mobile app epitomizes just how aggressively the retail giant is pressing its technological advantage to win the market for everyday merchandise. Need more ketchup or dish soap? Just aim your camera at the empty bottle. Suddenly your whole house is an Amazon showroom.

In a way, Flow is gimmicky Most of this stuff has barcodes you could already scan at home, too. But every step Amazon takes to make buying smoother equals one more reason to skip a trip to the store. Says WIRED s Roberto Baldwin “It s all part of the company s goal to take you from I need that to I bought that in less than 30 seconds.”

That s especially threatening to a store like CVS, which sells consumer packaged goods commodity products that everyone else stocks, too. CVS can t compete with Amazon on selection or price. It can t even compete on consumer desire to see and feel before they buy Do you really need to hold that tube of toothpaste? The only advantage left is getting something right when you want it what retailers call the “top off.” The closer Amazon gets to on demand imagine combing Flow with same day delivery or vending machines the more CVS loses its last justification for maintaining physical stores.

Amazon Flow. Photo Ariel Zambelich/WIRED

A Place for Care, Not Just Stuff

The good news for CVS and its shareholders is that management has recognized this threat and is moving brilliantly to meet it. The company s effort to rebrand itself as a one stop health care destination, not just a corner store, has long been under way. The decision to stop selling cigarettes takes that soft launch and turns it into a loud, clear statement of a new identity You don t come here to buy paper towels, you come here to be well. (And you might pick up some paper towels while you re here.)

In its press release announcing the new no tobacco policy, CVS executives said all the right things about the ills of tobacco usage and the importance of promoting better health. But the subtext was all about how the company wants its customers to view its stores as a new kind of destination a place to go to get care, not just stuff.

“Every day, all across the country, customers and patients place their trust in our 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners to serve their health care needs,” said Helena B. Foulkes, president of the pharmacy division of CVS in the release. “Removing tobacco products from our stores is an important step in helping Americans to quit smoking and get healthy.”

The company also said it would lose $2 billion in revenue annually due to the decision not to stock tobacco. That s already a small percentage of its business, even more so when you add revenue from its CVS Caremark prescription drug coverage business. But $2 billion is also a small price to pay to stay ahead of Amazon. Just ask Borders or Circuit City, which went from thousands of stores to zero stores in a few short years after Amazon started chasing their markets. In the world of marketing, you can t do much better than the avalanche of positive press CVS is getting for its anti tobacco move. If you re going to take on Amazon, there s probably no better place to start than an endorsement by the President of the United States.