By Amy Ridenour
EDITOR’S NOTE: The writer is addressing the question, “Should the Federal Drug Administration butt in and regulate e-cigs as a tobacco product?”
On Jan. 11, 1964, the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health released its very first report on tobacco smoking.
Based on scientific evidence consisting of more than 7,000 articles relating to smoking and disease, the report cited tobacco smoking as a major cause of lung and laryngeal cancer and chronic bronchitis.
The report launched a “war on smoking” that soon required health warnings on cigarette packages and bans on broadcast cigarette commercials, and by recent years had led to bans on smoking in certain areas, with numerous laws and regulations in between.
Over this half-century of cigarette regulation, two facts have been impressed upon the nation: 1) smoking tobacco kills people; 2) once a person is addicted to smoking cigarettes, or, rather, to the nicotine one ingests by smoking cigarettes, it is very hard for a person to quit.
So when an invention came along—e-cigarettes—that supply nicotine in much the same way as a tobacco cigarette, but without any apparent link to cancer or lung disease, there were many cheers.
Finally there was a product that could help those who were addicted and for whom the available anti-smoking aids had not been of sufficient help.
Lives could be saved. People could replace their tobacco cigarettes with e-cigarettes; switch out smoke and carcinogens with water vapor and the horrible smell with no smell at all—or the light scent of a chosen flavor, such as mint or strawberry.
Lives could be saved.
One would expect the response of the public health community to be a near-universal “hurrah”—and in some quarters, it has been.
But for those who appear to be addicted to regulation, and not to public health, e-cigarettes provide an unwelcome challenge.
How do they go about banning access to a product that saves lives? And what do they say when people, quite reasonably, ask, “Why do you want to”?
For many of these regulators, the answer is as “what if.” “What if” vaping—inhaling water vapor through an e-cigarette—turns out to be harmful? “What if” people who vape decide to start smoking because they first vaped?
It is on the basis of these “what ifs”—however unlikely—that some support bans on the sale of e-cigarettes, or grossly high taxes on e-cigarettes, or outright bans on the use of e-cigarettes in public.
But such policies mean nicotine addicts will be less likely to use e-cigarettes, and relatively more likely to keep smoking tobacco. The obvious and predictable result is relatively more tobacco smoking and thus, more illness and death.
The director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, Mitch Zeller, J.D., made the key point clear in an interview with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s New Public Health: “People are smoking for the nicotine but dying from the tar.”
He says e-cigarette regulation should take into account the “continuum of risk: that there are different nicotine-containing and nicotine-delivering products that pose different levels of risk to the individual,” and regulate accordingly.
Which means America should not treat e-cigarettes and vaping just like tobacco smoking and smoking, because smoking is far more dangerous than vaping.
In fact, because vaping can cause people to voluntarily stop smoking, a carefully crafted regulatory policy that steers Americans from smoking toward vaping as a replacement provides “an extraordinary public health opportunity.”
Mitch Zeller makes a lot of sense. By contrast, regulation zealots, such as those in Michigan who in January lobbied against a state-level bill banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors because it did not treat e-cigarettes the same as the far, far more dangerous tobacco cigarettes, are an enemy of public health.
Smoking kills. Vaping is a safer alternative, and our nation’s regulatory policy will save lives if it reflects this fact.
Amy Ridenour is chairwoman of the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C., a conservative think-tank on Capitol Hill. She can be reached at 501 Capitol Court NE, Washington, D.C. 20002 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.