The regulation of electronic cigarettes during a pandemic is an interesting case study. Public health departments have warned against the use of inhalants that combust or even aerosolize compounds into a human’s lungs as a means to reduce the risks of the novel coronavirus further.
E-cigarettes are included in this advice, given the evidence that both smoking and vaping cause direct injury to the pulmonary system. Evidence review of the relative risks of e-cigarettes by Public Health England (PHE) confirms that e-cigarettes can serve as a tool to quit smoking.
I don’t discount the risks of smoking and vaping to people with other underlying conditions. Vape and tobacco products also shouldn’t be used by individuals, especially youth, who have never been exposed to smoke and vape aerosols. The coronavirus has prompted a new push among tobacco control advocates to remove products in the e-cigarette and vaping categories from the market before the deadline for premarket tobacco applications in May of 2020.
In a recent letter, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., requested Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Stephen Hahn remove all vaping products off the market because of the risks smokers and vapers face in contracting respiratory viruses like COVID-19.
“Reducing the number of smokers and vapers that fall ill with coronavirus will not only help them but the entire health system,” Krishnamoorthi said, arguing that the health system requires the full resources of the U.S. health system to fight coronavirus cases. Tobacco and vaping related injuries are, he characterizes, as drains on health infrastructure.
He does find a justifiable reason to take concern for this crisis, and it should be noted to consumers and tobacco harm reduction advocates that respiratory-related injuries linked to vaping and smoking should be minimized as much as possible. The only thing that is troubling in Krishnamoorthi’s letter is a lack of recognition for the multitude of challenges brought on by a prohibition, regardless of whether the background events that include a pandemic.
The COVID-19 outbreak in itself presents an international crisis that has forced governments to now rely on the use of regulation that either goes too far or not far enough. It’s irresponsible to ban e-cigarettes, despite the FDA’s active response to the EVALI lung injury outbreak of 2019 and the expedited regulatory mandate requested in federal litigation. The COVID-19 epidemic, though, doesn’t provide any more justification to limit access to products, in any capacity. Though the relationship between the coronavirus and cigarettes and vapes is a likely possibility, the hypothesis needs further review. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in the U.S., a tiny portion of patients who identified preexisting conditions that involve smoking and smoking-related illness. More information is needed to reports the CDC.
Now is not the time to remove a category of products from the market to appease the political interests of tobacco control. The prudent policy would be to push back the regulatory deadline to a later period so that companies and consumers can adapt and prepare with more time, amid the pressure brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on public life. The COVID-19 outbreak is a consistently developing situation that requires public health authorities to make decisions that lack substantial evidence. For these matters, balanced communications and respect for product access is a requirement for furthering protecting health.