According to the CDC’s early release of its National Health Interview Survey, smoking rates in the U.S. have hit an all time low of 14.9 percent in 2015, which breaks the previous year’s record low of 16.8 percent. Smoking rates in both the U.S. and the U.K. have seen steady decline over the last 7 years, but no one seems to be able to agree on why that is. According to the CDC, their anti-smoking campaigns are to thank; however, on the other side of the Atlantic, Public Health England cites a different reason for decreasing tobacco use: the soaring popularity of e-cigarettes.
Smoking Rates Decline As E-Cig Use Increases
In August of 2015, Public Health England published a comprehensive evidence-based review on electronic cigarettes, which named e-cigs as a primary contributor to record low smoking rates. The same report concluded that, “e-cigarettes are around 95 percent safer than smoked tobacco, and they can help smokers to quit.”
In the U.S., smoking rates have also been plummeting since 2008, just one year after electronic cigarettes were first introduced in the United States. Despite the good news, tobacco is still the most frequent cause of preventable death and disease in the U.S. Everyone knows the dangers of smoking: About 500,000 Americans die from smoking related illnesses every year, and for each death, another 30 smokers are living with chronic illness or disability due to smoking. In addition to their shocking Tips Campaign, the CDC attributes the recent decline in smoking to higher tobacco taxes, public smoking bans and pharmaceutical nicotine replacement therapies, or NRTs; however, the decline in tobacco use has also coincided with a boom in the vaping industry. Annual e-cig sales in the U.S. totaled around $20 million in 2008, but by 2014, that figure reached $1.5 billion. Could there be a link between these inverse trends?
Related: The Future of Electronic Cigarettes: The US vs. England
The CDC Buries Its Head in the Sand
Whenever the CDC mentions e-cigs, they always treat them as an equivalent to tobacco cigarettes. When discussing the latest CDC numbers, Brian King, who is the deputy director for research translation at the Office on Smoking and Health in Atlanta, acknowledged growing e-cig use in the same breath as saying, “We really need to carefully look at how all the different tobacco products are being used, and make sure we’re not simply playing a game of whack-a-mole.” Note the term “tobacco products.” E-cigs are not tobacco products, yet the CDC seems less concerned with science and more occupied with destroying the e-cig industry.
Are E-Cigs Helping Smokers Kick Their Tobacco Habit?
The CDC’s willful ignorance is tragic because evidence suggests that e-cigs can help people quit tobacco. Anti-smoking campaigns and tobacco taxes have been around for decades without putting a dent in smoking rates, but tobacco sales have taken a drastic dip since the vaping industry took off. Dr. Brad Rodu, a professor at the University of Louisville, analyzed data from the National Health Interview Survey and discovered that 85 percent of 2 million e-cig users reported quitting tobacco within the past five years.
Makers of nicotine gums and patches could only wish for success rates that high. In an interview with CSP Daily News, Dr. Rodu claimed, “FDA-approved NRTs work for just 7 percent of smokers,” adding, “Can you think of another FDA-approved medication that works for just 7 percent of people?” Obviously, no other pharmaceutical drug would stay on the market with such shoddy results. If ineffective nicotine replacement therapies are going to remain on the shelf, why not promote something that actually works, like e-cigs?