Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Utah Department of Health Refuses to Acknowledge that Cigarette Smoking is Any More Hazardous than Vaping

In 2015, even the cigarette companies readily acknowledge that cigarette smoking is much more hazardous than vaping, which involves no tobacco and no combustion.

Not so for the Utah Department of Health.

In a "fact" sheet, the Department asks the question "Are e-cigarettes worse or better than regular cigarettes?" and then answers it by stating:

"Since e-cigarettes are not yet regulated as tobacco products, there is very little information about the ingredients of liquids or the approximate exposure to harmful and potentially harmful constituents when using e-cigarettes over the short-term or long-term. While several studies found lower levels of carcinogens in the e-cigarette aerosol compared to smoke emitted by traditional cigarettes, both the mainstream and the secondhand e-cigarette aerosol have been found to contain chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm, including acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, lead and nicotine. Nicotine is both a highly addictive drug and a neurotoxin that can cause nausea, vomiting, sweating, and an increased heart rate. Even though nicotine levels in e-cigarette refill solutions are often high enough to be fatal to small children, the FDA does not regulate e-liquid manufacturing. Recently, Salt Lake County Health Department partnered with the Center for Human Toxicology at the University of Utah to measure the amount of nicotine in 153 e-liquid samples the department obtained from retailers around the county.  In the study, 61% of the e-liquid samples differed by at least 10% from the labeled nicotine content, with discrepancies ranging from 88% less to 840% more than stated."

The Rest of the Story

It is quite clear that the Utah Department of Health is unwilling to acknowledge that e-cigarettes are safer than real cigarettes. 
The Department provides a long-winded response to the simple question of whether e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco cigarettes, but none of the response actually answers the question directly. However, the response seems to imply that it is the Department's opinion that e-cigarettes are not safer than tobacco cigarettes, and I certainly believe that most readers will interpret the answer in that way.

Why is this public health department so afraid to acknowledge the truth: that e-cigarettes are much safer than tobacco cigarettes?

I don't believe it is because the health officials are inept scientists who cannot tell the difference between nicotine and tens of thousands of chemicals and nicotine plus a couple of chemicals. Instead, I believe it is because there is a firmly entrenched ideology that anything which looks like smoking is terrible and so cannot in any way be condoned.

This is reminiscent of other harm reduction debates, where opponents cannot bring themselves to supporting a much less hazardous alternative to drug use, despite the enormous public health benefits. Perhaps the best example are opponents to the use of methadone for heroin addicts. These opponents of methadone argue that addicts are still remaining addicted to an opiate, and all opiates are hazardous. That may be true, but the use of methadone instead of heroin has been documented to have enormous public health benefits. No needle use. No spreading of AIDS, hepatitis, and other infections. No risk of thrombophlebitis, abscesses, and endocarditis. No need to commit crimes to support the drug activity.

Sadly, opponents of e-cigarettes are relying on arguments that are nearly identical to those which were used by opponents of methadone. And in both cases, I believe that the arguments are largely driven by ideology, rather than science.

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