Localities across the country are attempting to curtail access to electronic cigarettes in the name of protecting public health, but experts are warning such policies undermine gains made in reducing the smoking rate.
The R Street Institute, a free-market think tank based in Washington, D.C., argues in a report published Monday that policies restricting vaping will result in less smokers ditching the habit for alternative, and safer, technologies. While researchers argue legislation aimed at cutting down on the use of combustible cigarettes is admirable, they caution against policies that falsely conflate nicotine-based devices with tobacco products.
Vaping advocates note the products deliver nicotine to the user, not tobacco, reducing the harm to themselves and largely eliminating second hand risks. Americans are increasingly turning to electronic cigarettes as a way to quit smoking, according to federal data showing that former smokers made up 34 percent of all vapers in 2016.
“Taking steps to make e-cigarettes less accessible to current and future smokers means failing to make progress on reducing future rates of smoking-related diseases, which collectively kill 480,000 people in the United States each year,” Nicolas John, Northeast region manager for the R Street Institute, said in the report. “The measure of a successful public health policy should be the impact it has on the whole population, not just certain segments. While cigarette use in the United States is at an all-time low, the significant drop-off in smoking rates is due, at least in part, to the development of attractive (and much safer) alternatives.”
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.
Despite the positive research, local governments throughout the country continue to try and restrict the products, relying on dated statistics or predetermined narratives about their alleged dangers.
Lawmakers in Starkville, Miss., passed a ban Oct. 3 in a unanimous vote to included e-cigarettes and other vapor products in their definition of tobacco products. In September, the city of Hamilton, OH, moved to criminalize the use of electronic cigarettes in nearly all public areas by lumping them in with traditional tobacco.
Medical professionals focused on harm reduction say these policies will make it less likely that smokers in the area will attempt to quit, arguing the fear tactics used to push such bans ignore permanent science, leaving the public misinformed and stigmatizing the use of a safer alternative.
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