While the United States FDA and CDC have been treating e-cigarettes as a new public health threat, scientists and health officials in other parts of the world are embracing vaping for its potential to wean people off of tobacco. These e-cig advocates have rallied together behind a revolutionary strategy aimed at ending the global smoking epidemic: tobacco harm reduction.
The Quest for Tobacco Harm Reduction
No one disputes the terrible impact that tobacco has on society. Illnesses related to smoking and chewing tobacco kill millions of people every year. Nonetheless, users remain trapped in their addictions.
We also know that scientific research continues to suggest that vaping is far less dangerous than smoking. Studies have also shown that smokers have better luck transitioning from tobacco cigarettes to e-cigs than they do quitting smoking cold turkey or using nicotine replacement therapies like patches or gums. If smokers switched to vaping, it would be better for smokers and everyone around them.
Tobacco harm reduction, or THR, is the belief that people who use tobacco should be encouraged to adopt less dangerous habits. While this sounds uncontroversial, misconceptions and misinformation about e-cigs have led to misguided policies and regulations. Government agencies in some parts of the world, however, are encouraging THR as official public policy.
Vaping and Tobacco Harm Reduction in the UK
Back in 2015, Public Health England looked at all of the available research regarding e-cigs and published a conclusion that shocked most of the medical world: Vaping is at least 95 percent less harmful than smoking. In the following year, the UK’s Royal College of Physicians issued a report claiming “e-cigarettes are likely to be beneficial to UK public health” and called upon doctors to encourage their smoking patients to try vaping instead. Just a year later, the UK has already seen about a three percent decline in the smoking population according to the Office for National Statistics.
Vaping and Tobacco Harm Reduction in France
The French government has also warmed up to vaping. Tabac Info Service, the agency tasked with protecting public health, has conceded that vaping reduces and possibly even eliminates smokers’ risks for developing tobacco-related illness. The agency’s website claims that e-cigs can help people quit smoking or smoke less, and it goes as far as recommending dual use because it can help tobacco users cut their daily intake by up to nine cigarettes.
Vaping and Tobacco Harm Reduction in New Zealand
New Zealand is an example of a country that has very quickly changed its policies to accommodate the demand for e-cigs. The sale of e-liquids containing nicotine has been illegal within the country for years, but the government announced in March 2017 that e-cigs will be legalized in New Zealand for the purpose of tobacco harm reduction. This reversal in policy was announced shortly after the film A Billion Lives, a documentary criticizing government opposition to e-cigs and tobacco harm reduction, which debuted at the Doc Edge Festival in New Zealand. The New Zealand government has since started withholding funds from anti-smoking groups that oppose less harmful alternatives like e-cigs.
Vaping and Tobacco Harm Reduction in Australia
Unfortunately, many other governments are dragging their feet on tobacco harm reduction, and some are making it even harder to obtain e-cigs. For example, Australia has traditionally classified nicotine as a poison, so e-liquids with nicotine cannot be bought or sold within the country; however, they may be imported for personal use Despite the growing evidence that e-cigs are safer than tobacco, the Therapeutic Goods Administration recently rejected a proposal to reconsider its nicotine policies, which makes it impossible for vapers living down under to buy supplies locally. Meanwhile, tobacco cigarettes remain on store shelves.
Vaping and Tobacco Harm Reduction in the US
As discussed in previous posts, the US is a global leader in both medical and technological research. Unfortunately, the US is also an exporter of shoddy science funded by groups who want to impose taxes and restrictions on e-cigs while allowing tobacco companies to keep profiting of off cigarette addicts.
You’ve likely seen these controversial claims: Vaping is a gateway to smoking; e-cigs cause popcorn lung; e-liquids contain formaldehyde. All of these accusations have been dismantled on White Cloud’s blog and elsewhere, yet confusion persists due to carefully orchestrated anti-vaping campaigns.
Sadly, public health organizations in the US have made the situation even worse by embracing junk science despite that e-cigs are more effective smoking cessation tools than NRTs like nicotine gums and patches. We’ve also covered the FDA’s history of approving pharmaceutical drugs with deadly side effects, yet most e-cigs companies can’t afford to even apply for approval of their products.
A full year after Public Health England’s landmark report, the American CDC compared e-cig users to sheep in a public service campaign. The organization ran an advertisement in Pasadena bearing the phrase, “Don’t follow the herd. Vaping effects are unknown, stupid sheep.” Where is all of this vitriol and hypocrisy coming from?
It’s tempting to blame ignorance, but it’s hard to believe that public health officials in the US are simply unaware of research being conducted across the ocean. In fact, plenty of research on the benefits of vaping has been performed in the US. Sadly, deep seated fear and prejudice against nicotine trumps science. We would like to see America follow the examples of countries that have embraced THR, but history casts doubt on such a future.