Monday, April 13, 2015

Two Prominent Tobacco Control Researchers are Not Sure Smoking is Any More Harmful than Vaping

According to an article from Healthline News, two prominent tobacco control researchers are telling the public they are not sure that cigarette smoking is any more harmful than vaping.

For reference, electronic cigarettes contain no tobacco, involve no combustion, have tobacco-specific nitrosamine levels that are two to three orders of magnitude lower than real cigarettes, eliminate most of the more than 10,000 chemicals and 60+ carcinogens that are present in tobacco smoke, have been shown not to cause acute changes in spirometry-measured lung function (unlike real cigarettes), are not known to have caused any deaths in the U.S (compared to more than 400,000 per year for real cigarettes), and have been shown to reduce respiratory symptoms and improve lung function in asthmatic smokers who switch to them.

According to the article:

"someone who quits smoking before they turn 40 can expect to live as healthy a life as someone who never smoked at all, according to Dr. Jonathan Samet, a pulmonary physician and epidemiologist at the University of Southern California. ... But how about people who quit smoking regular cigarettes and switch to electronic cigarettes? Does their health likewise improve? The short answer is medical researchers aren’t sure. “We just don’t have the data,” Samet, scientific editor of the 2014 Surgeon General Report on smoking, told Healthline. “Getting into issues of long-term harm reduction, it’s something we need to sort through.”

Also according to the article:

"Jed Rose is a professor at Duke University who specializes in addiction and behavioral science. He told Healthline it’s difficult to say anything conclusive about e-cigarettes because they vary from one brand to another. ... As for those who switch from smoking to vaping, the verdict on whether they truly are improving their health is still being studied. It’s a question researchers are competing for millions of dollars to investigate.
“Using an e-cigarette exclusively may be advantageous when the results come in,” Rose said."

The Rest of the Story

Apparently, according to these prominent tobacco control researchers, the question of whether cigarette smoking is any more hazardous than vaping is a difficult one to which we don't yet have an answer. We "just don't have the data." It's something "we need to sort through." We won't know until "the results come in."

I find it difficult to believe that in 2015, we are telling the public that we're not yet sure whether cigarette smoking poses any more of a hazard than using non-tobacco-containing, non-combusted electronic cigarettes. And we're telling the public this despite our knowledge that smoking is killing more than 400,000 people a year, that tobacco smoke contains more than 10,000 chemicals and more than 60 carcinogens, that e-cigarettes have been found to eliminate most of these chemicals and carcinogens, and that several clinical studies have demonstrated dramatic clinical improvement in smokers who switch to electronic cigarettes.

What exactly is it that we need to wait for?

In my view, it is not only wrong but irresponsible to tell the public that smoking may be no more hazardous than using an electronic cigarette. Even the tobacco companies are not telling people this to defend their products. In fact, if any cigarette company made such a statement, I can guarantee that anti-smoking groups would have them in court the next day.

To me, telling the public that smoking may not be any more harmful than vaping is essentially public health malpractice. It is negligent because it really doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that heating a solution of nicotine and propylene glycol (that does not even contain any tobacco) is not going to be nearly as dangerous as burning tobacco. Moreover, it ignores the overwhelming scientific evidence that smokers who switch to vaping experience immediate improvement in their health, as well as abundant evidence that the exposure to harmful chemicals and carcinogens is greatly reduced in electronic cigarettes compared to the real ones. Even the tobacco companies understand that their combustible tobacco products are much more hazardous than their heated non-tobacco products.

Furthermore, I believe this is essentially public health malpractice because it is not only negligent, but it is also harmful to the public's health. It undermines the dangers of smoking while exaggerating the risks of vaping, which is almost certainly going to deter many smokers from quitting using e-cigarettes and may even encourage smokers who have quit using e-cigarettes to return to smoking. After all, if we're not sure that smoking is any worse than vaping, then what's the point of vaping? You might as well go back to your Marlboros, Camels, and Newports rather than your Logic, NJOY, or Vuse.

These researchers obviously recognize that quitting smoking yields immeasurable health benefits. Why, then, could they possibly think that smokers who quit smoking (but by switching to e-cigarettes) might not experience any health benefit?

Perhaps the contradiction lies in the ideology rampant in the tobacco control movement that views a complete switch from smoking to vaping as a continuation of smoking. Numerous public health groups are telling smokers that they need to quit smoking "completely," by which they mean quitting not only smoking but vaping. But that view is inaccurate. Someone who quits smoking via electronic cigarettes is no longer a smoker. He or she is a successful quitter. And until the tobacco control movement finally recognizes that, we are going to continue to see this malpractice of public health.

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