Nicotine addiction expert urges regulation, not prohibition, of e-cigarettes

Joseph DiFranza led the landmark research that changed how tobacco is sold, but sees benefit of e-cigs to smokers trying to quit

By Bryan Goodchild and Ellie Castano

UMass Medical School Communications

September 05, 2013

Joseph DiFranza, MD, a nationally recognized expert on nicotine addiction in adults and children, thinks that electronic cigarettes are a good thing for smokers trying to kick the habit.

Groundbreaking research by Dr. DiFranza, published in JAMA in 1991, led directly to the demise of the tobacco brand icon Joe Camel and helped tighten regulations on marketing tobacco products. As a family physician who has treated many patients over the years who smoke, he understands the tremendous harm smoking causes and the struggles smokers face when trying to quit. As an alternative to real cigarettes, DiFranza believes that electronic cigarettes are relatively safe and could be even safer if regulated.

“We actually think it may be a good development, because nicotine itself is not harmful,” said DiFranza, professor of family medicine & community health. “If we could get people off the cigarettes, off the tobacco, and just get them to take a medicinal or pure form of nicotine, we could save hundreds of thousands of lives every year.”

DiFranza does think that there should be age restrictions on who can buy electronic cigarettes, saying, “There has been some movement now in Massachusetts to raise the age for cigarettes to 21 and it would be nice to raise the age for electronic cigarettes at the same time.”

In this Expert’s Corner video, DiFranza explains why e-cigarettes are a promising tool for helping smokers quit using tobacco products and why big tobacco companies might actually play a role in quality control that the e-cigarette industry is in need of.