In statements that even the tobacco industry would not make, two physicians with the American Thoracic Society have publicly claimed that there is no evidence smoking is any more hazardous than the use of non-tobacco-containing, non-combusted e-cigarettes.
In a letter to the editor in the New York Times, Dr. Frank Leone - a pulmonologist who is chair of the American Thoracic Society's Tobacco Action Committee - claims that there is no evidence that e-cigarettes are safer than real cigarettes. In fact, he claims that it is too early to even suggest that e-cigarettes are likely to be much safer than smoking.
Dr. Leone writes: "There is not sufficient evidence to conclude that e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to regular cigarettes or that e-cigarettes actually help smokers quit. ... it is too early to suggest labeling saying 'it is likely that e-cigarettes are much safer than smoking.' That isn't reassurance; it's a marketing tactic."
Meanwhile, in an article in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Dona Upson - a member of the Tobacco Action Committee of the American Thoracic Society - also claims that there is no evidence vaping is any less hazardous than smoking.
Dr. Upson is quoted as stating that: "we just don’t have any good, solid data showing harm reduction versus tobacco products."
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These are shocking claims, given that e-cigarettes contain no tobacco and merely heat and aerosolize a solution of nicotine, propylene glycol, and glycerine, while cigarettes burn tobacco at very high temperatures, producing more than 10,000 chemicals which include more than 60 human carcinogens.
The statements are also shocking given the fact that a multitude of data now demonstrate that e-cigarettes are less toxic than tobacco cigarettes, including studies showing that asthmatic smokers who switch to e-cigarettes experience dramatic improvement in their symptoms, that the levels of virtually all carcinogens are much lower in e-cigarette aerosol than in tobacco smoke, and that unlike smoking, vaping does not cause endothelial dysfunction or decrements in spirometric pulmonary function tests.
And the statements are even more shocking given that the tobacco companies themselves have acknowledged that smoking is much more hazardous than vaping. Obviously, it would be quite advantageous for the tobacco companies to lie to the public and repeat the claim that these physicians are making. But the tobacco companies are not doing that. Ironically, they are the ones telling the truth about the relative hazards of smoking vs. vaping.
Adding to the shock, Dr. Leone states that there is not evidence to even suggest that e-cigarettes are likely to be less hazardous than smoking. In other words, he is claiming that it is not likely that smoking is any more hazardous than vaping. Based on the existing scientific evidence, I view that claim as being patently false.
It is not clear exactly what the American Thoracic Society's Tobacco Action Committee is smoking, but whatever it is, they are undermining years of public education about the severe hazards of smoking. They are also discouraging quit attempts by smokers and helping to protect the cigarette market, as the hysterical information they are disseminating may well scare some vapers into returning to smoking and may discourage smokers from quitting who might well have quit using e-cigarettes.
On the bright side, I at least applaud Dr. Leone for speaking out against hospital policies that refuse employment to e-cigarette users.
This story once again demonstrates how ideology, and not science, has taken over in the tobacco control movement.