While I understand the concern that certain members of Public Health, Tobacco Control, and the Media are expressing; they are, like so many members of the legislature and the public, jumping to conclusions based on flawed data points. The studies exhibited are often notably presenting information that takes no account of the risk reduction between e-cigarettes and the smoking they replace. Several studies have designs that have no relationship to real world application, often exaggerating the exposure so significantly that someone using an e-cigarette would have to inhale vapor with every breath, even while sleeping! The most recent headlines this month are perfect examples of what has been a constant onslaught of poor science, badly reported. In the first instance, the reporters fail to note that the studies on Diacetyl and Acetyl propionyl produced by e-cigarettes, at their worst, are 750 times lower than cigarettes. In the second, most reporters failed to read beyond the press release to discover that exposure to cigarette smoke killed an entire culture of cancer susceptible cells in just 24 hours while those same cells exposed to e-cigarette vapor at what the study’s author admits is an excessive level lived for 8 weeks and suffered only some questionably deleterious effects.
These situations are plentiful in the debate over e-cigarettes and public health. Scare tactics abound, where the mere mention of a chemical is couched in terms to cause maximum fear and outrage. However, when clear reason is applied, it becomes all too evident that the risks of e-cigarettes are so very much lower than the risks of smoking that Public Health England (the equivalent of the Department of Health and Human Services in the United States) reversed its stance and declared that e-cigarettes are AT LEAST 95% less harmful than the cigarettes they replace. Moreover, that reduction in harm is just for the end-user. Public health has long touted the possibility of danger from second-hand smoke to bystanders, family members, children in the home. E-cigarettes pose such a dramatic reduction in risk that there is no real reasoned question that they pose negligible risk to others.
Tom Miller, Iowa’s Attorney General, and one of the attorneys representing the states against Big Tobacco in the Master Settlement Agreement recently issued a statement questioning the wisdom of banning and over-regulating e-cigarettes:
“There has been an effort to say that combustible cigarettes and e-cigarettes are equally harmful, that their companies are equally evil, and that they should be strongly regulated the same way. This view is incorrect, but it has gotten significant traction. Polling indicates that 32% of Americans believe that combustible cigarettes and e-cigarettes are equally harmful. This means that as many as 13 million adult smokers believe them to be equally harmful, and are very unlikely to switch when switching may save their lives. People making misstatements about e-cigarettes have the best of intentions — to keep kids from being addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes.But adults misleading kids to get them to do what we want has always been a failed strategy.”
He joins many other pioneers, from former U.S. Surgeons General to the first Director of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, who have come forward in the last year, supporting e-cigarettes place in the battle to reduce the harms smoking causes. If men such as these can see through the haze of misinformation, surely it is time to rethink what we are doing in the legislation and regulation of e-cigarettes.
What it boils down to is the fate of nearly a half a million lives this year alone. We all want our children to grow up without knowing the premature loss of parents and loved ones. A new technology is available that is making this dream possible for millions of Americans every day.
The opponents of electronic cigarettes will put forward reams of data that take not one care for these things. Advocates can cite solid scientific evidence that refutes every one of their claims. But that isn’t getting us anywhere. In truth, we both want the same thing. What those who oppose e-cigarettes have forgotten is that this is about people, not numbers; lives not revenues. It is about families growing old together. It is about a world where the choices today are less harmful than the choices we grew up with.
In the coming year the arguments against vaping will be more of the same cacophony of collusive confabulation. Our strategy must change to meet these head on. In every case we must not only point out the incredible deceptions being put forward, we must make the choices clearly moral. Advocacy is no longer just about the science, it is about moving the issue to lives, not only of the smokers and vapers, but those around them. Vaping offers one of the safest, and most popular, alternatives ever created. It not only reduces harm to the smoker who takes up vaping as an alternative, but it reduces to insignificant the potential harm to bystanders. Those bystanders are not nameless, faceless people. They are family, friends, colleagues, and cohorts. They are the ones hurt, not only by the alleged effects of second-hand smoke, but more importantly, by the declining health and eventual death of every person they know who is denied a safer alternative to smoking.
The choice is ours, the lives are ours, and we will not go quietly into that good night.