Public Health Officials Should Embrace E-Cigarettes
It’s time for public health officials to advise smokers that electronic cigarettes are a worthy alternative to smoking that can help them quit the tobacco habit.
Most e-cigarettes look like cigarettes. But people who “vape” – use e-cigarettes – are not smoking. They are instead inhaling a water-like vapor that is free of the tar and the sky high levels of carcinogens that make cigarette smoking so dangerous.
Activists who have spent years seeking to extinguish smoking have allowed their hatred of tobacco to cloud their view of vaping. It’s hard for them to imagine that e-cigarettes are not only smokeless, but actually are a proven way of helping people to quit smoking.
This confusion has been going on for a long time. Over five years ago, groups that have long campaigned against smoking like the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and American Cancer Association pressured the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to remove all e-cigarette products from the marketplace. Their campaign failed, but their anti-vaping rhetoric has only increased since then.
These groups, along with many supposed experts in the field, have been misled into thinking that the emergence of e-cigarettes is a threat to public health. In fact, it is a boon and opposition to e-cigarettes is self-defeating for public health advocates. The vast majority of the 40 million American adult who smoke cigarettes want to quit, but only 3 percent of them kick the habit each year.
Rather than being a part of the problem, e-cigarettes are a significant part of the solution. Studies have consistently shown that smokers who switch to e-cigarettes greatly reduce their health risks. Independent research has demonstrated that while e-cigarette vapor may look like smoke, it shares virtually none of the chemical characteristics.
Indeed, while cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals and 70 known carcinogens, e-cigarette vapor is far more comparable to the FDA-approved Nicotrol Nicotine Inhaler, which contains only trace levels of toxicants and chemicals.
Tobacco stock analysts have said the growth in vapor products accounts for the faster-than-expected decline in cigarette sales. International surveys have shown that smokers are not only using e-cigarettes to quit, but are finding more success with e-cigarettes than they are with traditional products, such as gum or patches. A recent study in the United Kingdom sponsored by Action on Smoking and Health, the country’s largest anti-smoking charity, found that 700,000 ex-smokers used e-cigarettes.
Worth noting: The main reason the U.K. ex-smokers gave for using e-cigarettes was to quit or to avoid tobacco products.
Critics warn that young people can be harmed by the e-cigarette craze. And, in fact, experimentation among youth has increased. But there isn’t any evidence that young non-smokers regularly become habitual e-cigarette users nor that they are turning into smokers of cigarettes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control’s latest National Youth Tobacco Survey, high school students reporting e-cigarette use in the prior 30 days were almost exclusively smokers. Meanwhile, teen smoking rates hit an all-time record low in 2013, according to the nationwide Monitoring the Future Study. This finding and others have led Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor at the University of Boston’s School of Public Health, to conclude that there is no evidence of e-cigarettes acting as a gateway product to traditional cigarettes.
Opponents of e-cigarettes often accuse the industry of trying to attract children by offering flavors. That simply isn’t the case. Two surveys that examined e-cigarette use by thousands of adult e-cigarette users found that the vast majority of them were ex-smokers and that they liked their vapor flavored. Fruit flavors were the most popular. The evidence suggests that alternative flavors actually help smokers break their taste for tobacco or menthol.
E-cigarettes are not a threat to children or adults, though barring minors from vaping is a perfectly reasonable limitation. Smokers should not be prevented or discouraged from using e-cigarettes because of irrational fears. E-cigarettes help people quit cigarettes. That’s the new reality and we should embrace it.
Gregory Conley is the president of the American Vaping Association.