Researchers are ripping into a surgeon general report on electronic cigarettes from 2016 they charge is “so misleading and so evidence-baseless that it demanded critical appraisal.”
Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general under President Barack Obama, issued the first report on vaping Dec. 8, 2016, warning the devices pose a grave threat to kids and require a regulatory crackdown. The report argued that e-cigarette use among America’s youth is rapidly creating a public health crisis, but scientists critiquing the report in a study published Wednesday say the surgeon general ignored pertinent facts and let political ideology guide his advice.
Dr. K. Michael Cummings, professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina, said the data and studies the surgeon general relied upon “largely debunk the so-called gateway hypothesis, yet that is precisely the take home message that many people got.”
“One was lead to believe that e-cigarettes posed a grave danger to public health in that teenagers trying these products were getting hooked on nicotine and would likely transition to deadly cigarettes,” Dr. Cummings told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “That was a false narrative. While the sales of e-cigarettes have increased from virtually zero to what is today a $3-$4 billion dollar a year industry, most of the use is restricted to adult smokers and former smokers.”
The study, published in the Harm Reduction Journal, reveals the surgeon general report relied primarily on the effects of exposure to nicotine found in cigarette smoke to draw conclusions, not the aerosol nicotine released by vaping devices. The researchers note the surgeon general report exaggerates the health risks from exposure to certain chemicals found in liquid nicotine while ignoring data showing large drops in the smoking rate since the emergence of vaping products.
The surgeon general report also fails to distinguish experimental use with regular use, giving a slanted picture of the vaping population among American teens. Riccardo Polosa, professor in the Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine at the University of Catania and lead author of the study, said the report “failed to acknowledge that these products are a much less harmful alternative to cigarettes.”
Medical experts focused on harm reduction say these misrepresentations, often driven by politic interests, damage overall public health and risk costing smokers lives. They also note lawmakers and public officials rely on these reports for policy guidance.
“It is my impression that studies that highlighted harms of e-cigarettes were automatically treated as true, while those suggesting possible benefits were often discounted,” Dr. Cummings told TheDCNF. “That is not how science works. All studies in surgeon general reports should be reviewed critically so the evidence is guided by the best science, not a pre-determine anti-e-cigarette conclusion. We all benefit when policy decisions are based on facts not fiction.”
A survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released June 15 revealed that after a rapid increase in youth vaping between 2011 and 2015, teens are now giving up the habit. The number of middle school and high school students who use a vaping device dropped from 3 million to 2.2 million in 2016, far from the crisis predicted by the 2016 Surgeon General report.
A growing body of medical evidence demonstrates that vaping is a much safer alternative to smoking. A University of California study released July 26 showed a record number of Americans are ditching cigarettes with the aid of vaping devices. The rate of Americans quitting smoking jumped from 4.5 percent between 2010 and 2011 to 5.6 percent between 2014 and 2015.
That means roughly 350,000 smokers gave up the habit between 2014 and 2015.
A study released Aug. 16 by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the Rutgers School of Public Health reveals that vapers who use an e-cigarette on a daily basis vastly strengthen their chances of quitting over those relying on the patches and gum approved by the FDA.
The researchers found more than half of daily vapers quit smoking within the past five years. Only 28 percent of smokers that did not try a vaping device were successful in their efforts to quit.
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