If there was a device that helped smokers quit the habit — saving lives, reducing the leading cause of preventable disease in the United States and making life better for everyone — you would think public health officials would enthusiastically endorse it.
There is such a device: the e-cigarette. And, indeed, some public health officials are embracing it. But far too many are spreading false statements about e-cigarettes, blunting the products’ ability to help smokers quit smoking.
Here are the facts: E-cigarettes are non-combustible, non-tobacco devices that use a battery to heat a liquid nicotine solution, thereby creating an inhalable vapor. The activity is called “vaping.”
Unlike cigarette smoke, which contains more than 4,000 chemicals and 70 known carcinogens, e-cigarette vapor is far more comparable to the FDA-approved Nicotrol Nicotine Inhaler, which contains only trace levels of toxicants and chemicals.
More to the point, e-cigarettes help smokers quit smoking. They are the opposite of a “gateway” to smoking, even though some public health officials spread this myth.
Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, has said that “many kids are starting out with e-cigarettes and then going on to smoke conventional cigarettes.”
That is simply not true.
Dr. Ted Wagener at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center recently studied college smokers. Out of 1,300 smoking students he surveyed, Wagener found one — one! — who had started nicotine use with e-cigarettes.
In a study of 26,566 European smokers, Dr. Constantine Vardavas of the Harvard School of Public Health found that just 1 percent of nonsmokers had tried vaping.
The majority of e-cigarette users surveyed were in fact heavy smokers who had tried to quit.
A recent study in the United Kingdom sponsored by Action on Smoking and Health, the country’s largest anti-smoking charity, found that 700,000 ex-smokers used e-cigarettes.
Even though they are relatively new to the market, e-cigarettes have already shown the ability to help smokers quit — and research suggests e-cigarettes may in fact be the best means for helping smokers kick the habit.
A study in England published in the medical journal Addiction earlier this year surveyed 6,000 smokers who tried to quit.
Among the respondents who had used e-cigarettes in their most recent quit attempt, 20 percent had successfully broken their tobacco habit. In contrast, less success was found with those who quit without help (15 percent) and those who used nicotine-replacement therapy such as gum or a patch (10 percent).
Looked at this way, e-cigarettes are in fact a gateway — a gateway to leaving smoking.
Finally, from a business point of view, the independent e-cigarette industry — those businesses not affiliated with Big Tobacco — have no incentive to use e-cigarettes to drive their customers toward cigarettes. Our product helps people quit smoking, and we like it that way.
E-cigarettes are a disruptive technology that have enjoyed incredibly fast consumer uptake. Because of their newness and innovative nature, however, such technologies are often the victim of misinformation.
The stated goal of public health officials is to reduce the number of smoking-related diseases and deaths. E-cigarettes can do that.
We urge public health officials and policymakers to study the facts and research about e-cigarettes before making false statements about a device that helps accomplish the objective they want most.
Gregory Conley is president of the American Vaping Association, based in Hoboken, N.J.