Elected officials and anti-smoking advocates need to re-think their knee-jerk reaction and hostility to e-cigarettes and vaping. It seems like every day we hear a new attack -- yet these products are actually helping some people quit or cut back on the much more dangerous alternative of smoking tobacco.
On Tuesday, New York Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Queens) introduced legislation to ban flavors used in e-cigs and vaping products saying they entice kids to start using the devices."These flavors are direct marketing to children," Constantinides said. "They appeal to children, and we're taking them out of that market."
While Councilman Constantinides' instinct may be that flavors lead to young people using e-cigs and that they then move on to smoking, that is not what leading experts are finding. The Wall Street Journal ran an important op-ed by Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor at Boston University's School of Public Health, who discredited the e-cigartte is a gateway to smoking argument. Dr. Siegel has 25 years of experience in tobacco control and points out that there is no evidence that people who use e-cigs then go on to smoking.
While I understand the concern of marketing e-cigarettes to young people and nonsmokers, we cannot lose sight of the fact that these products are helping millions of people stop or cut back on smoking. Vaping is a safer delivery system for nicotine, and many people enjoy the flavor and find it pleasant -- that's why more and more people are turning to it. Do we really want to limit flavors if they are helping people move away from smoking? It is ironic that anti-smoking advocates, whose goal is to get people not to smoke, are attacking a practice that is succeeding in getting people not to smoke. Shouldn't we be applauding the fact that so many people are embracing this harm reduction practice?
In May, a large study out of England that was published in the journal Addiction madeworldwide news when they announced that smokers trying to quit were 60 percent more likely to succeed if they used electronic cigarettes than over-the-counter therapies such as nicotine patches or gum.
"We share the same goals as anti-smoking activists and people who want to reduce smoking," said Talia Eisenberg, a vape user, advocate and co-founder of Henley Premium Vapor and The Henley Vaporium. "We have 100's of customers every day, all over 21, who say the flavors are enjoyable and are helping them stay off cigarettes."
I have worked to end our nation's disastrous war on drugs for the last fourteen years at the Drug Policy Alliance. Whenever we propose programs that reduce the harms of drug use, our opponents respond with the false claim that we are sending the "wrong message" to young people. We should never let politically expedient sound bites trump interventions proven to minimize the health consequences of drugs.
Young people are not stupid. They can handle the truth. In fact, it was honest anti-smoking campaigns that have led to big drops in smoking rates. We need to continue with honest education about vaping and e-cigs. We rightly tell young people that smoking tobacco is a leading cause of premature death, and we tell them how incredibly addictive nicotine can be and that it is one of the hardest things in the world to quit.
We should also tell them that while we need more research, dozens of health experts sent a letter to the World Health Organization urging them to embrace e-cigarettes as a life-saving intervention, saying that e-cigarettes "could be among the most significant health innovations of the 21st century, perhaps saving hundreds of millions of lives." We should explain to them that millions of people are deciding to improve their health with the much safer practice of vaping instead of smoking tobacco. This type of honesty and context is the right "message" for young people.
And the message we need to send to politicians like Councilmember Contantinides? Take a balanced approach rooted in public health. Whatever your intentions are, your attempt to ban flavors and demonize vaping and e-cigs will lead more people to the much more harmful practice of smoking tobacco. More smoking means more pain and more death. Let's ground our drug policies in compassion and science, not hysteria and ideology. The price for a slow learning curve is too great.
Tony Newman is the director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance(www.drugpolicy.org)