Monday, April 27, 2009

SmokeFree Wisconsin Calls Electronic Cigarettes a Ploy by Big Tobacco to Recruit Kids and Supports Call for Their Removal from the Market

The anti-smoking organization SmokeFree Wisconsin has accused tobacco companies of using electronic cigarettes as a ploy to hook youths on these products. The group asserts that these products are being marketed to kids by virtue of their being produced in fruit flavors. For these reasons, SmokeFree Wisconsin joins a number of other health groups in supporting efforts to remove electronic cigarettes from the market.

SmokeFree Wisconsin writes Saturday in its blog entry entitled "E-cigarettes: The Latest Ploy By Big Tobacco to Hook Kids": "A recent call to our office prompted us to look further into the emerging issue of 'e-cigarettes.' A group of public health advocates has urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to pull e-cigarettes (or electronic cigarettes) from sale in the United States. ... E-cigarettes are often made to look like conventional tobacco products and are marketed to kids by producing them in fruit flavors. A united group of public health advocates, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, sent out a press release commending Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey for demanding that the FDA remove e-cigarettes from the marketplace. FDA officials have been quoted in the past few weeks saying e-cigarettes are a 'new drug' that needs to be approved by the government before it can be sold."

The Rest of the Story

Unfortunately, SmokeFree Wisconsin is spreading misinformation.

While it might make an appealing story, it is not true that electronic cigarettes are a ploy by Big Tobacco to hook kids. Electronic cigarettes are actually not produced by the major tobacco companies. They are not produced by tobacco companies at all. There are a number of companies selling these products, but to the best of my knowledge, none of them is affiliated with Big Tobacco.

Thus, it is demonstrably false that e-cigarettes are a ploy by Big Tobacco to hook kids.

The truth is that electronic cigarettes are being marketed not to try to recruit youths to smoking, but to fill an important niche in the market: the need for a more effective smoking cessation product.

Traditional smoking cessation aids -- including nicotine replacement therapy -- have a dismal track record, with long-term success rates in the single digits. Thus, there is a need for a product that will be much more effective in helping smokers to get off cigarettes. Perhaps because they model smoking behavior - delivering nicotine but without the tobacco - electronic cigarettes appear to be a much safer alternative to smoking and they also appear to be reasonably effective in helping smokers to stay off cigarettes.

Although it is true that electronic cigarettes can be used with various flavorings, it is not the case that these flavorings are being marketed to appeal to youths. Quite clearly, the intention of the electronic cigarette manufacturers is to take advantage of the huge potential market of smokers who want to quit smoking but have very little faith in (or have had an unsuccessful experience with) traditional nicotine replacement products.

Taking electronic cigarettes off the market would be a huge mistake from a public health perspective. It would almost certainly result in a return to cigarette smoking by most e-cigarette users. This would result in increased disease risk, as these individuals would be exposed to nicotine and all the carcinogens and toxins in tar, rather than just nicotine.

While it is of course reasonable to institute measures to ensure that youths do not get their hands on e-cigarettes, taking the product off the market would be detrimental to the public's health.

SmokeFree Wisconsin should correct its misinformation so that it doesn't continue to mislead the public. And if it is truly concerned about the public's health, rather than just about whether people are taking part in the act of smoking a cigarette-like product, SmokeFree Wisconsin should renounce the other public health groups' call for a ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes.

(Thanks to Sheri for the tip).

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