Monday, March 28, 2011

Utah Department of Health Tells Public There is No Evidence that Electronic Cigarettes Help Smokers Cut Down on the Amount They Smoke

Despite widespread, published survey evidence that electronic cigarettes help many smokers to reduce the amount they smoke, the Utah Department of Health is asserting to the public that no such evidence exists.

According to an article on Salt Lake City's ABC-TV affiliate web site, the Utah Department of Health stated: "There is no legitimate scientific evidence that e-cigarettes will help smokers quit or reduce their use of any tobacco product."

The Rest of the Story

Note that there is a difference between stating that we cannot conclude from existing evidence that e-cigarettes help smokers cut down and that "there is no" evidence. Had the Health Department simply offered its own conclusion that when one examines the evidence, it is premature to conclude definitively that electronic cigarettes are effective for smoking cessation or smoking reduction, I would not have had a problem with that. However, the Department of Health instead apparently asserted that there simply is no evidence that electronic cigarette use can lead to a reduction in smoking. I believe this is false.

There is abundant evidence, not only anecdotal evidence but also published scientific survey evidence, that many vapers have been successful in reducing the number of cigarettes they smoke. In my own study, we found that two-thirds of electronic cigarette users reported cutting down on the number of cigarettes they smoked.

Given what we now know, I find it irresponsible (and inaccurate) for a health department to report to the public that there is no evidence that vaping can help smokers to cut down on the amount they smoke.

From this article, it appears that the Utah Department of Health would rather have smokers continue to smoke than succeed in quitting or cutting down on the amount they smoke using e-cigarettes. The Department recommends pharmaceutical therapy, but we know that these products have a dismal success rate, on the order of only about 8% long-term. Recommending that people use NRT products is tantamount to recommending that they not bother to try quitting. Especially for people who have tried unsuccessfully in the past with these products.

Unfortunately, it appears that public health groups are trying to punish people who are using electronic cigarettes. Nowhere is this more clear than in South Dakota, where the three largest health care providers in the state have banned the use of these products on hospital grounds. These providers do not appear to understand that people using electronic cigarettes are making quit attempts. They should be applauded, not punished. Furthermore, there is no evidence that electronic cigarette vapor poses any dangers to others. Moreover, these policies do not merely ban electronic cigarette use in the hospital. You cannot vape outside, anywhere on the premises.

Why punish people who are making such a strong effort to quit and who are not exposing others to secondhand smoke? Shouldn't we be applauding these individuals, rather than punishing them? Isn't this exactly what we want smokers to be doing, if possible?

Why is it that health care and public health groups are so determined to try to punish electronic cigarette users? I believe the answer is that these groups cannot tolerate any activity that merely looks like the act of smoking. It is the act of smoking, not the actual health risks, that appear to be motivating these groups.

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