E-cigarette bans and propaganda are driven by cronyism, not public health

Dr. Gilbert Ross Medical and Executive Director, American Council on Science and Health
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The most important, devastating yet preventable public health problem in the western world is cigarette smoking. How bad is it? The W.H.O. predicts one billion lives cut short worldwide this century, if current trends continue. In America alone, the toll amounts to nearly a half million deaths each year.

Many tactics to combat this addictive scourge have been tried over the decades, but progress in reducing smoking’s carnage has essentially come to a halt over the past few years. Meanwhile, our ostensible public health experts’ contribution has been to proffer hyper-precautionary warnings against a highly promising new technology — electronic cigarettes (“ecigs”), a potential public-health miracle — perversely standing in the way of progress against smoking-related disease and death.

After passing through New York and Chicago, the e-cigarette ban-wagon is now threatening the public health of Los Angeles. A measure set to come before the L.A. City Council next week— February 24th  — would make these low-risk devices difficult to use for millions of former smokers who have finally escaped from deadly, addictive cigarettes, treating them as though they were the real thing. While this is a ploy aimed at keeping cigarette taxes pouring in and clearly harmful for public health, the manner in which the L.A. lawmakers plan to go about it brings to mind nothing less than Orwell’s Big Brother.

The City Attorney proposes to restrict e-cigarettes to only those areas where cigarettes are permitted; thus, “vaping,” as using an e-cigarette is known, would be banned not only indoors, but even outdoors in parks and beaches — allegedly to “protect children from second-hand ‘smoke.’”

Is there any basis for their concern? No. Several academic experts’ evaluations of e-cigarette vapor show nothing harmful to anyone, so any such ban is regulatory overreach in the guise of a public health measure. Paradoxically, its effect would be to consign ex-smokers to vape outside among current smokers: a recipe for relapse.

It gets worse: in a bald-faced attempt to promote their agenda, the City’s leaders decided to simply redefine the words “tobacco” and “smoke” to squeeze e-cigarettes into current anti-smoking laws. The proposed revision states that the Council, being “concerned about the rising prevalence of e-cigarette use,” proposes to amend “smoke-free policies” to include e-cigarettes in the definition of smoking, and also to include “e-cigarettes in the definition of [a] tobacco product.”

There’s just this small problem: e-cigarettes neither contain tobacco nor do they emit smoke. Even the most vitriolic opponents of e-cigs do not contest those simple facts. Exhaling a plume of smoke-like vapor (almost entirely water vapor) does not make it smoke, nor does anything in e-cigs resemble tobacco.

This tactic smacks of despotism, as arbitrary and capricious as lawmakers can get. Am I being hyperbolic? Not only public health, but the rule of law could become collateral damage if regulators can simply re-define commonly used, long-established words to suit their agendas. What stands in the way of declaring certain words in the Code of Federal Regulations (or for that matter, the Bill of Rights) as something other than what we have always thought?

Ecigs have now been used by millions of American smokers, many of whom have either switched from deadly cigarettes to low-risk e-cigs, or cut down significantly. The more ecigs sold and used, the fewer cigarettes. Indeed, recent reports confirm skyrocketing ecig sales as Big Tobacco companies report historic declines in cigarette sales.

You’d think “public health” would be jumping with joy at this prospect, but they are not. In a bizarre, through-the-looking-glass scenario, the public health agencies and nonprofits all refuse to even consider ecigs, going so far as to advise (or warn) smokers not to even try them. Although the FDA-approved cessation methods they adhere to have a less than 10 percent “success” rate, their monolithic message to smokers remains, in essence, “quit or die.”

Why are ecigs more effective than the nearly useless FDA-approved products? The vaping experience closely mimics the smoking experience, helping addicted smokers quit by replicating the behavior patterns of smoking; moreover, ecigs also deliver a satisfying nicotine “hit.” Smokers smoke for the nicotine — but they die from the smoke. In simple terms, ecigs supply the former, and avoid the latter.

Why is the LA City Council, like so many other regulators and politicians, antagonistic to this apparent public health miracle? Some say they fear that young people will be attracted to e-cigarettes, noting the “child-friendly” flavors. This is consummate sophistry, as the 33,000 heart-rending anecdotes from grateful ex-smokers on my Facebook page, “HelpingAddictedSmokers,” attest: adults also prefer novel flavors. Further, the CDC’s own teen tobacco survey have shown a very low rate of underage vaping.

Studies have shown that e-cigarettes act as a gateway out of smoking, not into it. That same survey also showed a significant decline in teen cigarette smoking, further refuting these baseless fears of teen nicotine addiction.

The phony “public health” hype is clearly shown to be an excuse for a power grab by the ban on outdoor vaping: what possible rationale could there be for that?

The pervasive campaign against e-cigarettes by the CDC and local agencies is nothing other than a hypocritical desire to keep on collecting cigarette taxes. The propaganda warning smokers not to even try them — by the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, and other nonprofits supposedly devoted to public health — are inspired by the high levels of funding support by pharmaceutical companies invested in selling ineffective nicotine replacement products. When the CDC advises desperate smokers to “stick with the FDA-approved products,” they are saying, in effect, “Keep on smoking.”

It is particularly ironic that those most forceful in opposition to ecigs come almost entirely from the “liberal” camp, those who have been fervent supporters of the “harm reduction” approach to dealing with health threats from antisocial behaviors or addictions: viral health threats from unsafe sex (“use condoms”) and drug abuse (methadone, clean needles). Why, now, such senseless, harmful opposition?

Some of these self-styled dictators of behavior proclaim that ecigs should be “regulated.” By this, they mean regulated off the market for years to come. I say sure, regulate them: strict age limits on sales and marketing, accurate ingredient labels, responsible manufacturing practices with inspections and enforcement, and childproof packaging — all should be mandated.

But the pervasive, corrupt, unethical failure of truthful communication smokers are getting from those who we trust to deliver sound science-based health messages has the effect of keeping would-be quitters on their deadly cigarettes instead of safe, effective e-cigarettes to help them quit. I hope that the citizens of Los Angeles will not allow their legislators to redefine e-cigarettes and vapor as real cigarettes and smoke, just because they say so. Vapor is not smoke, and e-cigarettes are not cigarettes. Let vapers keep on vaping.