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Iowa AG Says Teen Vaping Is ‘Hardly An Epidemic’ And Is ‘Life -Saving’ For Adults

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Iowa’s top law enforcement official is championing e-cigarettes as a tool for smokers trying to quit, recently saying that activists claiming there is a teen vaping epidemic are “misleading you.”

Democratic Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, speaking on April 30 at the annual E-Cigarette Summit in Washington, D.C., argued harm reduction technologies offer regulators a unique opportunity to slash smoking rates in the U.S. and should be embraced by public health officials. He said efforts to demonize the industry over fears about teen use are irresponsible, ignoring the immense benefit of the products for smokers who are struggling to quit cigarettes.

“Every adult smoker in the United States should know that if he or she is unwilling or unable to give up combustibles, they should switch to e-cigarettes,” said Miller. “Those, for me, are the magic words. … We should be concerned about kids, and we are, that’s part of the equation, but I know nothing of kids’ use of e-cigarettes that should stop us from getting that important, life-saving truth to adults.”

Anti-vaping activists continue to push alarmist claims that vaping is creating a public health “epidemic” among teens and will lead to use of combustible cigarettes, however, the numbers simply do not add up.

“We’ve got great and very reliable data from Truth Initiative, they surveyed the kids back in November, and they found seven percent of kids 15 to 17 had used e-cigarettes once in their lifetime,” Miller said at the conference. “Hardly an epidemic, hardly a panic.”

A recent study, by esteemed tobacco researchers Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos of the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Centre in Greece and Dr. Riccardo Polosa of the University of Catania in Italy, found regular use of electronic cigarettes is “rare” among youths who do not smoke. Meanwhile, cigarette use among 12th graders fell to 4.2 percent in 2016 — down from 24.6 percent in 1997 — even as the number of youth experimenting with vaping devices increased.

Critics of tobacco harm reduction are particularly focused on the JUUL device, a brand proving immensely popular with adult smokers attempting to quit combustible tobacco.

Democratic Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and 10 colleagues recently sent a letter to JUUL CEO Kevin Burns and the Food and Drug Administration that claims JUUL is, “undermining our nation’s efforts to reduce tobacco use among youth.” Despite their claims, a recent analysis by researchers at Citi argues a sharp acceleration in sales for JUUL in the fourth quarter of 2017 is directly responsible for a six percent decline in U.S. cigarette volumes in the first quarter of 2018.

JUUL Labs is also taking direct action aimed at cutting down on teen experimentation with their products. The company announced an investment of $30 million over the next three years that will go toward funding independent research into the “scientific and societal implications of vapor products.” They are currently working with Miller and a group of public health officials to develop a “transparent” framework for conducting independent research.

JUUL will also back legislation raising the minimum purchasing age on tobacco and nicotine products to 21, although industry experts note this will do little to address access for youths, who typically get the products through a third party like a parent or sibling.

“They [JUUL] want to do everything they can to make sure their product does not get to kids, so they have asked me to form a group that would advise them on the practices that they should do, in addition to the ones they are already doing, and really set the model for a combustible or a non-combustible company for dealing with kids,” said Miller. “Anybody that tells you that JUUL is an epidemic or a panic in America is misleading you, keep that in mind.”

JUUL emerged as a powerhouse in the vapor market in 2017, and the device currently represent 54.6 percent of sales in the industry.

Vaping largely eliminates the harms from conventional cigarettes because 95 percent of the carcinogens that cause tobacco-related illnesses are released through combustion, according to Public Health England. E-cigarettes simply heat liquid nicotine, creating an aerosol vapor.

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Steve Birr