Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Another Anti-Tobacco Advocate Accuses Electronic Cigarette Companies of Promoting Tobacco Use and Being Funded by Big Tobacco

Why Can't This Issue Be Debated Based on the Facts?

A column by an anti-tobacco advocate on a San Francisco Chronicle blog argues that electronic cigarettes are being marketed in an effort to increase tobacco use and accuses tobacco companies of being behind these efforts.

According to the column: "E-cigs are only one of the latest tricks in pushing tobacco to people, and to subverting anti-tobacco education and restrictions. Unhealthy components have been found therein; the FDA is fighting to regulate them as a drug delivery device, as with regular cigarettes. The World Health Association denies that e-cigs are a legitimate smoking cessation method. Canada holds that e-cigs pose similar nicotine addiction risks and banned them. Former Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would have banned their sale in California. They are banned in some public places in other states, and on flights. They can't be sold to minors but have been flavored with fruit and candy. The nicotine content in some e-cigs has been understated in labels and is sometimes much higher than in legitimate smoking cessation products. These supposedly "safer" cigarettes undermine secondhand smoke regulations and make them harder to enforce. And so on....

So, some open questions:

1. Are "thehealthyconsumer" and other e-cig marketing sites and advertising funded by tobacco companies?

2. Does sfgate have policy regarding accepting advertising from tobacco companies? Was this advertisement/link looked at in light of such policy?

3. Do "The Doctors" from television know that their brief 2009 segment on e-cigs is being used as marketing for the devices? If so, have they received any funding from tobacco interests?"

The Rest of the Story

Both major contentions of the commentary are not only wrong, but exactly the opposite of the truth.

First, electronic cigarettes are not being marketed to try to increase tobacco use; they are being marketed to try to decrease tobacco use by getting people off of tobacco cigarettes. The goal of every c-cigarette company is to encourage smokers to switch from tobacco cigarettes to electronic (non-tobacco) cigarettes. The fewer tobacco cigarettes the smoker uses, the more money the e-cigarette companies make. So their success is directly tied to the degree to which they are able to lower tobacco sales.

Research, such as my own study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, has documented that electronic cigarettes decrease tobacco use, rather than increase it. The majority of e-cigarette users cut down on the number of tobacco cigarettes they smoke and a proportion are able to quit smoking entirely. There is no evidence of any significant use of electronic cigarettes by youth or nonsmokers. Thus, I do not understand how one can claim that electronic cigarettes are designed to increase tobacco use. The truth is just the opposite. Electronic cigarettes represent a threat to tobacco sales.

The second major contention of the commentary - its accusation that Big Tobacco is behind the marketing of electronic cigarettes - is also false. None of the current electronic cigarette companies - producers or distributors - are associated with tobacco companies. In fact, they are competing directly with tobacco companies (and pharmaceutical companies) for profits.

Given the novelty of these devices and the limited research on their safety and effectiveness, there is plenty of room for healthy debate about the proper role for electronic cigarettes in smoking cessation strategy. However, that debate must be based on the truth - on factual evidence - not on a "pack of lies."

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