Governments around the world are hotly debating whether e-cigarettes and vaping products are valuable tools to help people to quit smoking, or a harmful menace that may lead to more tobacco use and cause other health problems.
Even the United Nations’ global health arm, the World Health Organization (WHO), is considering whether e-cigarettes, which are handheld electronic devices that vaporize a flavored liquid that typically contains nicotine, should be banned.
During the WHO’s recently concluded legislative session on tobacco control, the Conference of the Parties to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in India, delegates adopted a declaration to pursue banning or heavily regulating e-cigarette in more than 180 countries.
This decision, however, wasn’t based in science or in health concerns. It was a one-sided decision that risks depriving smokers of safer alternatives to quit smoking.
One of the biggest threats to global public health is tobacco, which is responsible for an estimated 6 million deaths per year. In the U.S., almost 9 percent of the health care spending goes for tobacco-related illnesses. In developing countries, the problem is even more dire. India, for example, spends nearly 1.2 percent of the country’s entire gross domestic product dealing with diseases linked to tobacco use.
Politicians’ efforts to reduce tobacco consumption are failing.
Empirical studies like those by National Bureau of Economic Research indicates that high taxes on cigarettes result in no statistically significant effects on adult smoking rates. To make matters worse, reports show high cigarette taxation fuels tobacco smuggling and the production of counterfeit cigarettes. As a result, illicit cigarettes make up around 12 percent of the global cigarette market.
The policy failures related to trying to reduce tobacco consumption only heighten the need for substitutes to traditional cigarettes. E-cigarettes appear to offer such an alternative. That’s because the toxins and carcinogens in tobacco smoke, which are the primary causes of diseases like lung cancer, cardiovascular ailments and emphysema, are not found in e-cigarettes.
Because e-cigarettes don’t burn tobacco, and therefore don’t generate the toxins and carcinogens found in cigarette smoke, e-cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful than the traditional cigarettes, according to research by the National Health Services UK, Public Health England and Web Med.
In addition to offering a safer alternative to cigarettes, studies performed by Duke University, the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies and the University of Geneva’s Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine show that e-cigarettes can be an effective means of quitting smoking with little health risk. E-cigarettes allow smokers to continue using nicotine – which is addictive but likely no more harmful than caffeine – while avoiding the deadly carcinogens, tar and more than 3,000 other dangerous substances found in tobacco smoke.
Despite the promise that e-cigarettes and vaping products appear to hold for people smokers trying to kick the habit, the WHO and a number of countries are frantically regulating and even banning e-cigarettes.
The WHO has called for strict regulations on e-cigarettes, arguing that still more tests and studies are necessary to prove their safety. Canada, Australia, India and a number of states in the U.S. have started regulating e-cigarettes as though they are traditional tobacco products, and are even banning the sale and advertisement of e-cigarettes.
Since e-cigarettes don’t contain the cancer-causing agents created through the combustion of tobacco, banning them is counterproductive and can increase the smoking rates.
In fact, three major studies have indicated that smoking has increased in states with e-cigarette bans.
To make matters worse, politicians are apparently enacting e-cigarette bans in order to protect revenues generated from taxes on conventional tobacco products rather than for any health-related arguments. As a result, elected officials in the U.S. are putting their constituents’ lives at risk to keep from cutting in to the more than $40 billion in tobacco taxes collected by the federal and state governments.
E-cigarettes provide consumers with a safer way to deliver nicotine than smoking. Banning these innovative products denies smokers the right to choose a healthier product with far fewer associated health risks than smoking.
Lekshmi Nair is the Manager of the Centre for Comparative Studies at Centre for Public Policy Research in Kochi, India.