The real cost of treating e-cigarettes the same as combustible cigarettes is the harm reduction that it actively prevents
It’s an unfortunate trend that more and more local governments are quickly banning e-cigarettes by the same rules that prohibit smoking. These knee-jerk policies leave little, to no, time to adequately discuss the potential of these products to improve the health and well being of smokers across the globe. Just recently, Massachusetts became the latest state to agree to classify vaping as a “tobacco product.”
Ignoring the fact that e-cigarettes contain no tobacco whatsoever, the association of these two vastly different products is actively hurting its ability to be a powerful tool for smoking cessation. These laws often get passed solely by appealing to protecting the youth and therefore ignoring the proven benefits for adult smokers. They claim that if vaping becomes more accepted, more kids will pick up vaping and, as the story goes, end up smoking.
The real path to a healthier society is through real-life tobacco harm reduction programs. This type of program looks to decrease the number of smokers by supporting less-harmful alternatives wherever possible. Traditionally this would often be primarily nicotine patches or gum, but over recent years vaping has been gaining a steady following in both the general public and scientific community as a hugely successful smoking cessation tool. These products are not 100% risk-free, but they represent a reduction of harm that is shown to be several orders of magnitude safer than traditional smoking.
It has always been the case that all tobacco products were treated more or less the same under American tobacco control laws. They operate under the idea that any type of tobacco product is extremely detrimental to your overall health. But this picture has been muddied up quite a bit over the last five years with the explosion of e-cigarettes.
The Royal College of Physicians in the UK found that not only is vaping less harmful than cigarettes but is likely at least 95% safer than combustible cigarettes. They should be seen as experts in this field, having been one of the very first organizations to provide substantial proof of the dangers of combustible cigarettes. E-cigarettes have quickly become the number one used smoking cessation tool around the world, even without the support of many world governments.
Then just earlier this year the Commissioner of the FDA, Scott Gottlieb said in a Washington Post interview that the real problem is the carcinogens in cigarette smoke, not the nicotine. He noted that e-cigarettes offer a way for users to get the nicotine they desire without exposing themselves to many harmful substances. But in spite of all of this unambiguous information, local governments across the country continue to use unfounded fear to drive their proposed plans.
Mostly claiming that flavored products are enticing many more teens to try them and that this experimenting directly leads to more teens smoking. This, of course, has been proven false as well. A study published in Tobacco and Nicotine Research found that teens are less interested in “kid-friendly” flavors, such as candy and fruit. Rather, they found that teens were more interested in “adult-like” flavors, so they could look and feel older than they are. So it seems it’s not the flavored products attracting teens, it’s tobacco flavored e-cigarettes. But somehow no politician ever singles out tobacco flavors as in need of regulation.
So as the story goes, several cities and towns across Massachusetts including Canton and Gloucester are currently considering vaping bans. These plans would do little more than keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of the smokers who desperately need them. Specifically, the smokers who have tried and failed to quit using traditional nicotine replacement therapies.
The biggest problem with policies like this is they actively push smokers away from a product that is proven to help them quit smoking for good. It’s vital that we support harm reduction tools for adult smokers, in addition to limiting their exposure to teens. The flavors are not a lure for children, but instead another reason why they’ve been so successful at getting people to switch. If we continue to limit the access to e-cigarettes for everyone, we are only slowing our progress toward a smoke-free world. While no one is claiming vaping is harmless, the research is very clear about just how much safer it is.
By only paying attention to the children, we are mostly helping cigarettes continue to be a huge factor in the public’s health. They’re the leading cause of preventable death, at over 450,000 people annually. If we want successful smoking cessation programs, we have to use all of the best tools at our disposal. While they had already been dropping for a long time, the rate of quitting attempts has only increased as vaping becomes more accepted in society. So it makes very little sense to make them harder to obtain, especially if just for the sake of protecting teens because that’s already been proven a fallacy.
Do you think that vaping bans actively hurt public health? Do you believe that flavored e-liquids attract teenagers? How should we teach that vaping and smoking are not the same? Let us know what you think in the comments.