By Amanda Wheeler
President, American Vapor Manufacturers Association
Here are the numbers. Thirty million American adults regularly smoke cigarettes, 480,000 die annually from a smoking-related illness, and public health costs associated with cigarette smoking are estimated to be over $600 billion. Yet, in their hubris, the FDA’s actions will ban the single most effective smoking cessation method ever devised.
Why is this happening? Prohibitionists are trying to make up for decades of policy failures on cigarettes by confronting vaping the way they wish they had taken on Big Tobacco 50 years ago. As a result, groups like the American Cancer Society (ACS) and American Heart Association (AHA) are using an outdated and regressive approach to harm reduction – precaution and prohibition.
When it comes to vaping, public health organizations and regulatory agencies have adopted a philosophy called the precautionary principle. This misguided approach favors extreme risk aversion and an abundance of caution over recognizing a spectrum of harm reduction. It leads to a prohibitionist mindset and a bias toward preventative measures, even when research shows they don’t work.
Public health’s hardcore stance against approving vaping devices is their biggest mistake. People don’t quit smoking cold turkey. One would think that a product without the cancer-causing carcinogens in combustible tobacco should be the preferred option because it gives adult smokers their best chance to quit smoking. More and more peer-reviewed studies show how vaping is more effective than prescriptions or patches.
An argument for extreme risk aversion might have been justified when vaping was first introduced to U.S. markets, but not today. Not after millions of Americans have successfully used vaping to quit cigarettes, and decades’ worth of peer-reviewed studies show vaporizing nicotine is far less dangerous than an adult regularly smoking combustible tobacco. Unacknowledged in the U.S., but accepted as fact in the U.K., are the findings from a 2014 study that concluded “the vast majority of the [more than] 4,000 chemicals present in tobacco smoke are completely absent from [e-cigarettes].”
When it comes to vaping’s role in harm reduction, the evidence is even stronger. The highly respected Cochrane Collaboration, a global network of 30,000 independent scientific experts, has examined 61 studies involving 16,759 adult smokers in its ongoing review of smoking-cessation tools. Researchers reported in September 2021, “We did not detect evidence of harm from nicotine ECs [electronic cigarettes],” however, they did find “moderate-certainty evidence that ECs with nicotine increase quit rates compared to [nicotine replacement therapy] and compared to ECs without nicotine.”
A December 2021 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 28 percent of smokers who vaped daily stopped smoking combustible cigarettes within 12 months. Crucially, the 1,600 people involved initially had no intention of quitting.
We are beyond frustrated. The tool to save millions of lives is at our fingertips while nanny state regulators refuse to acknowledge reality. I believe we can change the system – it will take some cheerful persistence, but we can win the argument that vaping should be the primary public health tool to help adults quit cigarettes.