weebly reliable statistics
by Gregory Conley
First appeared in TheGazette.com on Friday July 25, 2014
Nearly 40 years ago, Professor Michael Russell wrote in the British Medical Journal, “People smoke for nicotine but they die from the tar.”
In public health and tobacco control, this is not a particularly controversial statement. Unless, of course, you are talking about vapor products, otherwise known as e-cigarettes. In the case of e-cigarettes, an ideology that dictates, “If it looks like smoke, it must be evil” has led some anti-tobacco activists to discount or demonize a product that is greatly benefiting public health.

In 2009, major anti-smoking organizations such as the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and American Lung Association pushed for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to remove all e-cigarette products from the market. In the time since they launched their failed campaign, these groups and others have only intensified their campaign against the availability of these smoke-free alternatives.

Many public health advocates at the local level have been misled into believing that the emergence of e-cigarette technology represents a public health threat. In a country where 40 million American adults still smoke cigarettes and a mere 3 percent of smokers successfully quit each year, this approach is damaging and must be reconsidered.

When pressed, even the most virulent of e-cigarette opponents will generally concede that smokers who switch to e-cigarettes are greatly lowering their health risks. Numerous studies by independent third parties have demonstrated that e-cigarette vapor is far more comparable to the mist released from the FDA-approved Nicotrol Nicotine Inhaler than it is to cigarette smoke. While cigarette smoke contains over 70 known carcinogens, both e-cigarette vapor and the Nicotrol contain only trace levels of toxicants and chemicals.

The evidence in favor of e-cigarettes as a quitting tool grows monthly. Wall Street tobacco analysts credit vapor products with faster than expected declines in cigarette sales. International population-level surveys are showing that adult smokers are not only using e-cigarettes to quit, but are finding more success with e-cigarettes than they are with traditional products like gum or patches. A recent study in the United Kingdom performed by Action on Smoking and Health, the country’s largest anti-smoking charity, found that 700,000 ex-smokers were using the product. Not surprisingly, the main reasons these ex-smokers gave for using e-cigarettes was to quit or to stay away from tobacco products.

While a great benefit to adult smokers, nicotine use by youth must be discouraged. Earlier this year, the Iowa Legislature passed a bipartisan bill to ban the sale of “vapor products” and “alternative nicotine products” to minors. In recognition of the fact that vapor products are tobacco-free and can even be nicotine-free, the Legislature did not define them as “tobacco products.”

E-cigarette experimentation among youth has increased, but there is no evidence that youth non-smokers are becoming habitual users or, much worse, becoming cigarette smokers. The CDC’s most recent National Youth Tobacco Survey found that high school cigarette smokers were 21 times more likely than non-smokers to have used an e-cigarette in the prior 30 days (15.7 percent vs. 0.7 percent). Meanwhile, the nationwide Monitoring the Future study has found that youth smoking and smoking initiation has declined every year over the past 3 years.

Opponents of e-cigarettes often accuse the industry of marketing to children because of the availability of flavors. Two surveys of thousands of adult e-cigarette users, the vast majority of whom were ex-smokers, have been released in the past year that discussed flavor choice. Both surveys found that fruit flavors were the most popular. The most recent study demonstrated that approximately two-thirds of the respondents were primarily using a flavor that was neither tobacco nor menthol. Clearly, just as there is an adult market for flavored vodka and schnapps, there is also an adult market for flavored e-cigarettes.

The time is now for public health advocates to begin informing smokers that e-cigarettes are a smarter alternative to smoking that can help them quit.

• Gregory Conley is a Research Fellow with the Heartland Institute. Comments: gconley@heartland.org.


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