Wednesday, September 09, 2009

E-Cigarette Opponents Continue to Make No Sense, and to Show No Understanding of Smoking Behavior

According to an article in the Birmingham News, a physician who opposes use of the electronic cigarette argues that because e-cigarettes make you feel like you're still smoking, these devices do not help get rid of the cigarette smoking habit. He also argues that youths will be attracted to electronic cigarettes because the cartridges contain chocolate.

According to the article: "Besides the potentially toxic nature of the devices, those using them as a smoking cessation device might not really get off cigarettes, one Birmingham doctor says. Dr. William Bailey, medical director of the UAB Lung Health Center, said there are many smoking cessation devices, including patches and gum, but there have been no studies to back up claims that electronic cigarettes help. And he has his doubts they do. By mimicking the action of smoking while still delivering nicotine and other chemicals to the body, the e-cigarettes don't help get rid of the habit. It's designed to make you feel like you're still smoking, he said. 'I think it's more harmful than helpful ... and likely to increase nicotine addiction and cigarette consumption,' Bailey said."

"Michael Siegel, professor of community health sciences at Boston University's School of Public Health, said he believes the product could be a good smoking cessation device. Also, Siegel said, e-cigarette users aren't inhaling potentially thousands of harmful chemicals into their bodies, as they do with tobacco. 'From a public health standpoint these devices are potentially life saving,' he said."

"Some health officials also are concerned that e-cigarette companies may be marketing toward kids because many of the brands have cartridges in flavors such as strawberry and chocolate. 'Who's going to want a chocolate cigarette but a kid?' Bailey said."

The Rest of the Story

This physician's comments make no sense. "By mimicking the action of smoking while still delivering nicotine and other chemicals to the body, the e-cigarettes don't help get rid of the habit. It's designed to make you feel like you're still smoking." Well, that's exactly the point. The reason why these devices have apparently been so effective in helping smokers to quit is that they simulate smoking.

The point is: e-cigarettes do help get rid of the smoking habit. What this physician doesn't seem to realize is that if you are using electronic cigarettes exclusively, then you're not using the real ones. In other words, you are an ex-smoker. You have quit smoking successfully. You have gotten rid of the habit.

It appears that this physician has fallen into the trap that many anti-smoking groups have fallen into: caring only about the act of "smoking," not about the actual health effects of a person's behavior.

The physician goes on to argue that using e-cigarettes is more harmful than helpful. How could a product which delivers nicotine be more harmful than one which delivers nicotine plus thousands of other chemicals? Moreover, he goes on to argue that using e-cigarettes will increase cigarette consumption. That is virtually impossible, because every e-cigarette consumed by a smoker is one less cigarette consumed by that smoker. While vaping does not always result in a smoker quitting completely, it by definition results in a smoker cutting down on his or her cigarette consumption.

The final assertion made by this physician - that youths are going to want a chocolate cigarette - shows a complete lack of understanding of the appeal of smoking to adolescents. The appeal of smoking is precisely that it is viewed as an adult behavior. Teenagers don't smoke chocolate cigarettes, they smoke Marlboros, Newports and Camels. And they do this because they want to look and feel like adults. Cigarettes are viewed as a sign of maturity, not as a sign of being a kid. They are smoking precisely to escape the label of being a kid and to feel more adult-like, independent, and mature. Smoking a chocolate cigarette is actually the last thing in the world a teenager would want to be seen doing.

What is so disturbing about this physician's public statements is not that he opposes e-cigarette use, but that his opinions are based on such a complete misunderstanding of the health issues related to both smoking and e-cigarette use.

I would also argue that his opinions are damaging to the public's health because he is actually encouraging smokers to continue smoking rather than to quit using e-cigarettes. And worse, he is essentially encouraging ex-smokers who use e-cigarettes to return to cigarette smoking. The reality is that in advising ex-smokers not to continue vaping, he is giving them no option but to return to smoking, because the overwhelming majority of these vapers are not going to quit smoking entirely. Vapers know that the removal of e-cigarettes as an option is almost certainly going to force them to go back to the real thing, and that is why they are so scared about the threats by the FDA to remove this product from the market. Their health and lives are at stake, and apparently, physicians like the one quoted in this article would rather that these vapers be forced to return to cigarette smoking than that they remain ex-smokers who use a device that makes them feel like they are still smoking.

Publicly giving advice that is going to harm many smokers is bad enough, but doing so based on complete misinformation is extremely unfortunate.

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