Thursday, October 04, 2012

CASAA Blasts Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights for Shamelessly Promoting Continued Smoking

Last week, I criticized a statement from Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR) that falsely claimed there is no evidence that electronic cigarettes can be useful tools for smoking cessation. This week, The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA) is taking aim at ANR for promoting continued smoking by discouraging the use of electronic cigarettes for smoking cessation.

The original press release by ANR was entitled "Electronic (e)-cigarette manufacturers shamelessly promote untested product for use in "smokefree" environments; make false claims about efficacy as cessation device too." In a twist on who is acting shamelessly, the CASAA press release reads: "Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights shamelessly promotes continued smoking; makes false claims about hazards of electronic cigarettes."

According to the CASAA press release: "Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR), a proponent of the "quit or die" approach to smoking cessation, is misleading the public about hazards of electronic cigarettes, according to Elaine Keller, President of The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA). A recent ANR press release also falsely claims that there is "a lack of independent peer-reviewed scientific evidence demonstrating the safety or efficacy" of electronic cigarettes for smoking cessation."

"FDA-approved nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, nasal sprays, and oral inhalers are referred to as Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) products, but all these products are aimed at reducing the daily intake of nicotine to zero, and all have a 93% mid-year failure rate. In contrast, a growing body of scientific evidence is showing that providing smokers with a low-risk alternative such as electronic cigarettes is a much more effective way than nicotine-abstinence to achieve abstinence from smoking."

"BMC Public Health, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, published the results of an Italian pilot study that monitored modifications in smoking habits of 40 smokers not interested in quitting smoking. The researchers observed a 50% reduction of smoking in 32.5% of subjects and an 80% reduction in 12.5% of subjects. But they were astonished to discover that at the end of the 6-month study, 22.5% of these unwilling-to-quit subjects had completely stopped smoking." ...

"E-cigarette users report improvements in their health ranging from a reduction in COPD and asthma symptoms to better markers of cardiovascular health such as blood pressure and lipid measures." ...

"What I find most egregious about the ANR's recent press release," stated Keller, "is their claim that e-cigarettes 'pollute indoor air with detectable levels of carcinogens and other toxic chemicals,' when there is absolutely no indication that e-cigarettes pose any appreciable risk to bystanders. Tragically, these kinds of devious tactics may actually prevent smokers from saving their health and their lives by switching to this low-risk alternative."

The Rest of the Story

I agree that by scaring smokers about the health effects of electronic cigarettes, ignoring the evidence that these products have helped many smokers quit, and turning the other way towards clear evidence that many electronic cigarette users have experienced an immediate improvement in their lung function and respiratory symptoms, ANR is indeed "shamelessly promoting continued smoking." If they take ANR's advice, many smokers will be discouraged from trying to quit smoking using electronic cigarettes, and therefore will continue to smoke instead of either quitting or greatly reducing their cigarette consumption.

There is strong evidence that electronic cigarettes can play a useful role in smoking cessation or cigarette reduction. In the Italian study, 54% of smokers who were not motivated to quit were able to cut down on their smoking by at least half or quit completely within six months after trying electronic cigarettes.

There is also strong evidence that electronic cigarettes are much safer than regular ones. Instead of the more than 10,000 chemicals and more than 60 carcinogens in cigarette smoke, electronic cigarette vapor contains only a few chemicals, and those present are at much lower levels than in cigarette smoke. Thus, we know that vaping is much safer than smoking.

Of course we need more research to more precisely describe the exact health effects of electronic cigarettes and more importantly, to help find ways to reduce the levels of the few chemicals that have been detected. However, ANR's approach of scaring smokers about these products, without even mentioning the terrible hazards associated with cigarettes, is irresponsible.

ANR, along with much of the rest of the tobacco control movement, has lost its sense of perspective. Afraid of trace levels of carcinogens that have been detected in electronic cigarettes, the major national tobacco control organizations have gone overboard to condemn these products and discourage their use. The upshot of this approach is that these groups are essentially endorsing cigarette smoking over vaping. Better that smokers should continue using a deadly product whose risks are known than that they quit smoking by switching to a product whose risks have not been completely characterized, even though we know it is much safer than smoking.

That logic eludes me. In the case of most other groups that oppose electronic cigarette use, a readily apparent explanation exists: the financial connection of these organizations with Big Pharma. In ANR's case, there is no financial tie with Big Pharma that I am aware of. Instead, I believe the explanation is ideolgical.

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