Tobacco

Anti-Tobacco Scientists Warn Benefits of E-Cigarettes Are Being Lost

Government and the media aren't paying attention to the relative benefits of vaping over smoking tobacco.

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The potential of electronic cigarettes to save millions of lives is being lost because of the media, public health groups, and politicians' near singular focus on youth vaping to the detriment of adult smokers. That's according to a new paper written by 15 past presidents of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco (SRNT).

SRNT is the world's largest professional organization dedicated to studying tobacco, nicotine, and their effects on public health. For decades, SRNT has been instrumental in advancing anti-tobacco policies.

Published August 19 in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), the paper represents one of the most dramatic interventions by tobacco control experts in favor of a harm reduction rather than a prohibitionist approach to vaping, highlighting a significant split in the public health community.

"In my 45 years in the field of tobacco control research, I've never seen an issue that is as divisive as this one; and maybe none that is as important to public health," said Kenneth Warner, the article's lead author. Warner urges policy makers, the medical community, and broader society to rebalance their attitudes toward vaping.

Reviewing the scientific literature on e-cigarettes, the authors make clear vaping is dramatically safer than smoking. Yet, the majority of Americans incorrectly believe vaping is just as or more dangerous than regular cigarettes.

E-cigarettes are a consistent target for prohibitions, taxes, and product limitations. A leading cause of this hostility is that most media attention paid to e-cigarettes focuses on how many youths are vaping and how frequently. While a valid concern, the authors of the AJPH piece argue this often ignores the adult smokers who quit thanks to vaping and can exaggerate the threat e-cigarettes present to teens and how many are addicted.

A study of U.S. news articles on e-cigarettes cited in the piece showed from 2015 to 2018, 70 percent mentioned vaping's risks to youths, while only 37.3 percent acknowledged potential benefits for adult smokers who switch. Even celebrities are getting in on the action. Oscar-winning actress Laura Dern is partnering with the American Lung Association to warn about the dangers of e-cigarettes, claiming incorrectly that they're not safer than cigarettes and aren't effective at helping smokers quit.

The AJPH article doesn't doubt youths can become addicted to vaping, but "…the evidence does not suggest it is addicting very large numbers." The piece cites evidence showing the data don't support claims that e-cigarettes are fueling an epidemic of teen nicotine addiction. What the evidence does show is that most kids who frequently vape are either former or current smokers. Of those who have never smoked, just 2.3 percent vape regularly, and few show signs of dependence.

Fears that vaping could be a "gateway" for kids to pick up smoking are also misplaced, with the youth smoking rate having "declined at its fastest rate ever during vaping's ascendancy." Another frequently voiced concern regarding teen vaping is the potential for long-term cognitive damage. But research to date has not shown nicotine itself can harm youth by causing long-term brain changes with negative impacts on impulse control. The authors are eager for more study in this area to understand the risks of youth vaping properly.

One reason vaping is frequently maligned as a vice of high schoolers rather than a public health benefit is that smokers are no longer represented among the upper echelons of our culture: "To the more privileged members of society, today's smokers may be nearly invisible. Indeed, many affluent, educated US persons may believe the problem of smoking has been largely 'solved.' They do not smoke. Their friends and colleagues do not smoke. There is no smoking in their workplaces, nor in the restaurants and bars they frequent." About 14 percent of Americans smoke. However, smoking is heavily concentrated among those in the LGBTQ community and those with lower incomes, with mental health problems, or without a college degree.

To maximize the benefits of vaping, the authors recommend, among other things, higher taxes on regular cigarettes. Still, e-cigarette taxes should be "more modest" and far lower than cigarettes, encouraging smokers to switch. Instead of banning all e-cigarette flavors other than tobacco, which could hinder many adult smokers from switching, the authors suggest they could be restricted to adult-only stores. Government agencies and health bodies could highlight concerns about youth vaping but communicate the benefits of switching to adult smokers to counter misinformation about vaping. The document is a far cry from a free market manifesto but is a welcome challenge to the prevailing orthodoxy among many public health groups that the policy response to vaping should be one of draconian restriction.

"We agree with former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop who, in 1998, urged that '[A]s we take every action to save our children from the ravages of tobacco, we should demonstrate that our commitment to those who are already addicted . . . will never expire.' The latter appears at risk today," the paper warns.

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  1. e-Cigarettes helped my daughter kick a 2 pack a day smoking habit.

    I don’t understand the appeal of e-cigarettes, I don’t like their smell, and I find the behavior of lots of vapors to be extremely annoying.

    That said, I prefer my daughter’s current vaping habit to her former cigarette habit any day of the week.

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  2. I swapped to vaping from smoking years ago, and since I never intended on quitting smoking at all I think it was a good swap. Given that after switching I went through a hell of a detox, basically what occurs when you fully stop smoking, I think it’s pretty safe to say it’s a lot better for me than smoking was.

    Especially since my lung capacity has drastically increased, and I never feel short of breath despite moving to Colorado at a MUCH higher elevation than I previously lived at. In general, I feel much better all the time than I used to as a full-bore smoker.

    I would never say that vaping is completely safe, or even mostly safe, but in comparison to the FACT I was going to smoke until the day I died of lung cancer I think a REDUCED harm is preferable. Especially since I’m knowingly inflicting that harm on myself.

    I guess some people think I shouldn’t be allowed to harm myself at all, but fuck those people. It’s none of their business.

    That being said, some people who vape are truly obnoxious about it and insist on vaping around other people which is a pretty asshole thing to do. It doesn’t seriously bother me, but I can see why people who see those people being assholes about it get a negative impression.

    Where it gets a bit absurd is not being allowed to vape in, say, a parking garage with no smoking signs or out on a hiking trail. I’ve been dinged for that in past by security or park rangers, and they’re fucking idiots.

    1. I wish they’d let bars and stuff decide on their own too. Vaping does not pose the risks that smoking does to bystanders (even if the second hand smoke thing is exaggerated, it isn’t terribly healthy for people). So the only reason to blanket ban it is some kind of “sending the right message” BS.

      1. I think it boils down to it looks like smoking, therefore it must pose the same risk as smoking. It’s stupid, but that seems to be the type of mentality we’re dealing with.

        That, and the financial incentive of governments to treat them the same because of the money they get from cigarettes. It’s literally in the best interest of governments to drive people back to cigarettes as much as possible. Or, alternatively, to put all the same restrictions and schemes in place for vaping to protect their revenue stream.

        1. But there are plenty of people with no skin in the game who are anti-vaping. Some of them may simply be misled by the venal and corrupt, but I think the problem is a more general one that any close substitute for a banned or disfavored activity has the taint of that activity rub off on it. Which means their unstated motivation is to take away pleasure from those who like whatever it is.

      2. Second hand vaping carries the same health risks ad standing next to a pot of boiling water, or a humidifier, as they emit water vapor

    2. I would never say that vaping is completely safe, or even mostly safe,

      I’d say mostly safe. Especially compared to automotive exhaust, stagnant/rancid air, smog, ocean air (esp. during red tide events), airtight containers, etc., etc., etc. All of which we may advise against and prevent professional exposure to, but don’t broadly forbid anywhere and everywhere by law.

      1. Although, I should add, I’ve been a social cigar smoker for decades and have never once knowingly suffered any withdrawal symptom other than maybe irritability (If you smoke to relax, isn’t irritated the natural condition?).

        I should also note that every physical or medical treatment I’ve ever had, doctors, PAs, RNs, all ask me the smoking question, for which there is no ‘3-6 cigars a year’ answer. They always put me in the non-smoker category. Some begrudgingly, some enthusiastically (one, of European decent even said ‘Enjoy!’), most entirely indifferently.

  3. The media is the enemy.

  4. Please note that NONE of the authors of that article on e-cigarettes opposed FDA’s unlawful 2009 ban of e-cigarettes, and NONE opposed FDA’s subsequent 2014 regulation that banned the sale of all e-cigarettes not approved by the FDA (which still hasn’t approved any applications after 5 years) while keeping all deadly cigarettes on the market without more effective warnings (that Congress mandated in 2009 for implementation in 2011).

    So the article is a step forward for tobacco harm reduction.

    1. Also note that since 2007, I campaigned to keep vapor products legal to manufacture and market to US adults, to oppose huge vapor taxes, to keep vaping legal in public places, and to inform people that very low risk vapor products (and other smokefree tobacco alternatives) have helped millions of Americans quit smoking.

      Just as CDC, state and local health agencies, and FDA have politicized covid during the past 18 months, those same agencies (since 2009) have been deceitfully misleading the public to believe that vapor products (and all other low risk smokefree tobacco alternatives) are just as, or more harmful than cigarettes.

      Also note that SRNT endorsed (lobbied for) the 2009 Tobacco Control Act (that grandfathered all deadly cigarettes on the market by 2007), and the FDA’s 2014 Deeming Regulation (that banned / will ban the sale of 99.99% of e-cigarettes, as FDA still hasn’t implemented it six years after it was supposed to go into effect).

      The authors of this article failed to mention those key facts.

  5. Medical science has been overtaken by political science.

    1. It’s not science it’s math. If people stopped smoking cigarettes then government revenues would shrink and that simply cannot be allowed.

      I mean what’s really more important, public health or the money you can fleece out of addicts?

  6. California’s nagging nanny commercials rail against vaping too, and how the different flavors might appeal to kids. It’s like they’re rather kids were smoking tobacco which is ten times worse.

  7. Vaping entered society not long ago and there is insufficient statistical data to provide a representative analysis of the situation. Also, it’s no secret that most of the research on this type of smoking has been funded by the e-cigarette manufacturers themselves. Therefore, the results may not be entirely reliable, so to speak.

    Naturally, any substance that is foreign to the body has some effect on it. Whether you inhale the chemical compound, swallow it or even just touch it, the body will react to it with side effects.

    Naturally, the best way to keep yourself healthy is to stop smoking of any kind, with nicotine or its substitutes.

    Today, there is a whole class of applications designed to help get rid of addiction and start living a healthy full life: https://freeappsforme.com/apps-to-quit-smoking/

    1. Daria is dead wrong, as the evidence (hundreds of studies and thousands of surveillance data) indicates vaping is 99% less harmful than cigarette smoking, has helped more than ten million Americans quit smoking, and has reduced youth smoking by 80% in the past decade.

    2. COVID vaccines entered society not long ago and there is insufficient statistical data to provide a representative analysis of the situation. Also, it’s no secret that most of the research on this type of vaccine has been funded by the vaccine manufacturers themselves.

      (In fact, we have a ton more data on vaping than on COVID vaccines.)

    3. Vaping entered society not long ago and there is insufficient statistical data to provide a representative analysis of the situation.

      Incorrect. Breathing water vapor with all manner of contaminants, from steam baths to living in caves to combat TB to humidifying houses in winter (whether with a humidifier or kettle or cauldron sitting in a fireplace), is older than smoking a peace pipe. As a specific mixture of water and propylene glycol, it’s got decades of use in theatrics where people who are exceptionally sensitive to lung and vocal cord health generally regard it as innocuous with relatively transient and low volume exposure. As long as you aren’t standing in cloud of it that you can’t see through for 8 hours straight for days on end, the side effects are typically irritability and virtually always transient.

      The only way vaping is a ‘new’ thing is if you’re Amish and electricity is a new and inherently sinful invention.

  8. Oh the ‘scientists’ always preaching something or another.

    If one replaced the word ‘scientist’ with preacher today it would all come together. “Satan is upon us.”, said the preacher. “The world will end shortly.”, said the preacher. “Repent of your racist sins.”, said the preacher. etc, etc, etc…

    Problem being the word ‘science’ has allowed a merger of religion and politics in the USA.

    Start with common-sense 101 —
    The only ‘real’ science is proven and repeatable results. There isn’t much said today by the ‘scientists’ that is a *real* repeatable result.

    I.e. — Babies don’t die because someone had a cigarette in the next apartment. Almost *ALL* smokers aren’t going to fall over dead in the next 20-years. No-one who smells cigarette smoke is going to repeatably fall over dead from the smell.

    But religion doesn’t care about ‘reality’. Religion requires ‘faith’ not ‘reality’.

  9. Medical science has been overtaken by political science.

  10. Government and the media aren’t paying attention to the relative benefits of vaping over smoking tobacco.

    Reason: “Don’t believe the government on vaping, but totally believe the government on the COVID vaccine!”

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