Thursday, April 23, 2015

Why is the American Cancer Society Promoting Cancer by Favoring Real Cigarettes Over Fake Ones?

According to an article published in The Hill, the American Cancer Society (ACS) is discouraging smokers from quitting or trying to quit using e-cigarettes, claiming that vaping impedes, rather than aids smoking cessation.

The ACS was quoted as stating: “Every bit of delay is a new opportunity for the tobacco industry to hook new people on nicotine and get in the way of helping tobacco users quit."

At least one chapter of the ACS has gone even beyond discouraging smokers from trying to quit. The New York chapter has actually called for a ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes (to anyone, not just kids)!

According to the ACS web site: "We certainly support the development of therapies that help people quit smoking.  If these devices work as the manufacturers claim they do, we urge them to submit their products for clinical research and present the findings to the FDA to determine if they indeed should be classified as a smoking cessation product.  In the meantime, New York State should absolutely halt the sale of these products to children and prevent their sale to adults until they're proven safe."

The Rest of the Story

There are a huge number of smokers out there who have tried to quit using FDA-approved methods and failed. For these thousands of smokers, e-cigarettes represent their only viable option to quit smoking. Yet the American Cancer Society apparently wants to take this option away from them. That leaves them with no realistic option other than to continue smoking. Thus, by discouraging the use of e-cigarettes to quit smoking and by calling for a ban on these products, the American Cancer Society is actually favoring tobacco cigarettes over non-tobacco-containing e-cigarettes and promoting, instead of preventing cancer.

There is no evidence to support either of the major contentions of the ACS. First, there is no evidence that new people (i.e., youth) are becoming "hooked" on nicotine due to their experimentation with e-cigarettes. In fact, the preliminary evidence suggests that e-cigarettes are not particularly addictive and that youth experimenters are largely using these products only sporadically and in a social manner (e.g, at parties or in the presence of friends). Unlike cigarette smoking, an addictive pattern of e-cigarette use among youth has not been demonstrated. And as I discussed yesterday, evidence from the UK documents that few, if any, nonsmoking youth are using e-cigarettes regularly.

Second, there is no evidence to support the contention that vaping interferes with smoking cessation. The most rigorous studies conducted to date, clinical trials of e-cigarette use, found that e-cigarettes are as effective as the nicotine patch in promoting smoking cessation. These clinical trials did not find that vaping impeded smoking. Quite the opposite. They found that e-cigarette use significantly enhanced smoking cessation.

Recent data from the UK (Smoking Toolkit Study) have revealed that electronic cigarettes have now surpassed all the FDA-approved smoking cessation methods (including NRT, Chantix and other drugs, and behavioral therapy) as the most commonly used method in smoking cessation attempts. The same study found that electronic cigarette use led to a rather dramatic increase in smoking cessation attempts.

Far from impeding smoking cessation, e-cigarettes are a bona fide strategy for smoking cesation that have helped huge numbers of smokers to finally get off cigarettes.

Why is the American Cancer Society ignoring the science and simply making up its own conclusions? I believe it is because the scientific facts do not comport with the organization's deeply-entrenched ideology. But when ideology leads you to take a position and to take actions that run counter to the interests of public health, it is time to re-examine that ideology. This is something which few tobacco control organizations have been able to do.

Fortunately, the vapers out there know the truth. They can testify to the degree to which e-cigarettes have helped them to quit smoking or to greatly reduce their cigarette consumption and the level of their addiction. No one in the anti-smoking movement appears to be taking them seriously. But some of us are listening. And we'll keep fighting. It's sad that we have to fight our own organizations in this battle against cancer, but we can't give up that fight simply because our colleagues are the ones who are standing in the way of progress towards potentially taking a huge chunk out of smoking-related disease and death.

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