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Sure, it would be better if no one smoked any nicotine products. But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s repetition of that message blurs important distinctions.

Whether they’re warning us about the risks of fat, salt, alcohol or electronic cigarettes, public health authorities tend to mislead — with the best of intentions! — by presenting a black-or-white oversimplification. They equate big risks, small risks and hypothetical risks under one umbrella as “unsafe.” In the case of electronic cigarettes, recently declared an “epidemic” and a “public health crisis,” the misleadingly dire message deprives people of information we need to balance potential risks against potential benefits.

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