Tuesday, September 22, 2015

IN MY VIEW: Electronic Cigarettes are Not Renormalizing Smoking, Anti-Tobacco Groups Are

In an op-ed piece published in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Audrey Darville - a tobacco treatment specialist at the University of Kentucky and an assistant professor in the UK College of Nursing - writes:

"In the 1970s, the U.S. Congress banned tobacco ads to protect our impressionable youth from perceiving smoking as socially desirable. Now, for the first time in decades, advertisements portraying the recreational use of tobacco products are reappearing in popular media. Advertisements present e-cigarettes and vaporizers as safer alternatives to conventional cigarettes. Tobacco control advocates fear this type of exposure will unravel decades of progress in America by renormalizing smoking."

Besides the fact that Darville is misleading the public by claiming that e-cigarettes are "tobacco products" and therefore insinuating that they contain tobacco, she also claims that e-cigarettes, as safer alternatives to conventional cigarettes, are going to renormalize smoking.

Darville is not alone. Most of the mainstream anti-tobacco organizations are also demonizing electronic cigarettes on the grounds that they are going to renormalize smoking.

The Rest of the Story

The truth is the exact opposite: electronic cigarettes denormalize smoking because they are an alternative to smoking. The more people use e-cigarettes, the less they smoke. And as cigarette consumption declines, smoking is denormalized, not renormalized. What electronic cigarettes are normalizing is e-cigarette use, not smoking.

Instead, what is renormalizing smoking are the bogus claims of anti-tobacco groups throughout the country, which are trying to convince the public (with some success) that vaping is basically as bad as smoking. What these groups are doing is completely undermining decades of public education about the severe health consequences of smoking. Now, they are maintaining that it is not the tobacco combustion that makes smoking dangerous, but simply the act of inhaling any chemicals.

Tobacco has been completely taken out of the equation. By modern anti-smoking group standards, inhaling nicotine with a few other chemicals is what is hazardous, and the fact that smoking involves the combustion of tobacco (adding tens of thousands of chemicals and scores of carcinogens) adds little to the mix.

The public is being brought to the fallacious belief that smoking isn't really any worse than inhaling nicotine from a device that uses no tobacco whatsoever. The message is clear: "Smoking isn't really as bad as we previously told you. In fact, we don't even know that it's any worse than using a nicotine delivery device that contains no tobacco at all!"

Short of bringing back tobacco billboards and race cars, I can't think of anything that could do more to renormalize smoking than to completely obfuscate the role of tobacco in creating the greatest preventable health risk to mankind. But most ironically, this is exactly what the anti-tobacco groups are doing.

Embracing electronic cigarettes as devices intended to help smokers switch to a much safer alternative (i.e., quit smoking) is inherently contributing to the denormalization of smoking. What the anti-tobacco groups are doing is instead contributing to the protection of tobacco cigarettes from serious potential competition.

If tobacco control advocates were truly interested in an "end-game" strategy, what could possibly be better than vaping devices, which for the first time make it possible to envision the eventual transformation of the nicotine market, resulting in the near complete elimination of combustible tobacco (i.e., smoking)? After all, eliminating smoking is not possible in the absence of an acceptable alternative. Vaping products could be that alternative. But anti-tobacco groups are doing everything in their power to prevent this from happening. They are doing everything they can to prevent any kind of massive decline in smoking that would otherwise be a possibility.

The rest of the story is that electronic cigarettes serve inherently to denormalize smoking. At the same time, anti-smoking groups are serving to renormalize smoking by protecting tobacco cigarettes from potential competition. This did not have to be the case. The anti-smoking groups had a choice. Sadly, their choice was a bad one, and it is going to result in the prolongation of disease and death from smoking.

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