Thursday, December 16, 2010
New Article on Electronic Cigarettes Finds that Anti-Smoking Groups and Tobacco Companies are Curious Bedfellows
FDA’s Threatened Ban on Electronic Cigarettes Benefits Tobacco Companies and Harms the Public’s Health
A new study released this week is taking a strong stand against the Food and Drug Administration’s entrenched skepticism of electronic cigarettes as a harm reduction alternative to tobacco cigarettes. The study is the first to comprehensively review the scientific evidence about the safety and effectiveness of electronic cigarettes. After reviewing 16 laboratory studies of the constituents of electronic cigarettes, the study authors argue that electronic cigarettes are much safer than the real ones and therefore show tremendous promise in the fight against tobacco-related morbidity and mortality. Nevertheless, the FDA is threatening to ban them from the market, an action that would benefit the tobacco companies at the expense of the public’s health, according to the study, which appears online ahead of print this month in the Journal of Public Health Policy. The study’s co-authors are Zachary Cahn, a graduate student in the Department of Political Science at UC Berkeley and Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health.
According to Dr. Siegel, “The FDA and major anti-smoking groups keep saying that we don’t know anything about what is in electronic cigarettes. The truth is, we know a lot more about what is in electronic cigarettes than regular cigarettes. Our review shows that carcinogen levels in electronic cigarettes are up to 1,000 times lower than in tobacco cigarettes. No other constituents have been detected at levels that are of significant health concern. Thus, using electronic cigarettes (also called vaping) appears to be much safer than smoking. Taking these products off the market would force thousands of vapers to return to cigarette smoking. Why would the FDA and the anti-smoking groups want to take an action that is going to seriously harm the public’s health? The only ones who would be protected by a ban on e-cigarettes are the tobacco companies, as these new products represent the first real threat to their profits in decades.”
The FDA has seized electronic cigarette shipments from two companies and has threatened all electronic cigarette distributors with enforcement action against them if they continue to sell this product. Six national anti-smoking groups – the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Legacy Foundation, and Action on Smoking and Health – have called for the removal of electronic cigarettes from the market.
Regarding the relative safety of electronic cigarettes, the study concludes that “few, if any, chemicals at levels detected in electronic cigarettes raise serious health concerns. Although the existing research does not warrant a conclusion that electronic cigarettes are safe in absolute terms and further clinical studies are needed to comprehensively assess the safety of electronic cigarettes, a preponderance of the available evidence shows them to be much safer than tobacco cigarettes and comparable in toxicity to conventional nicotine replacement products.”
The study also reviews preliminary evidence that electronic cigarettes can be effective in suppressing the urge to smoke, largely because they simulate the act of smoking a real cigarette. “The fact that bothers the anti-smoking groups the most – that vaping looks like smoking – is precisely the fact which appears to make e-cigarettes an effective tool for smoking cessation,” notes Dr. Siegel.
Regarding the effectiveness of electronic cigarettes for smoking cessation, the study concludes as follows: “Although more research is needed before we will know how effective electronic cigarettes are at achieving smoking abstinence, there is now sufficient evidence to conclude that these products are at least capable of suppressing the urge to smoke.” There is also reason to believe that they offer an advantage over traditional nicotine delivery devices, the study argues, because smoking-related stimuli alone have been found capable of suppressing tobacco abstinence symptoms for long periods of time.
Siegel and Cahn conclude: “The evidence reviewed in this article suggests that electronic cigarettes are a much safer alternative to tobacco cigarettes. They are likely to improve upon the efficacy of traditional pharmacotherapy for smoking cessation.” While more research is needed, the article concludes that electronic cigarettes show promise as a harm reduction strategy and that removing them from the market would substantially harm the public’s health.