Smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths in the United States each year, including more than 41,000 fatalities from secondhand smoke. These numbers translate to roughly one in every five deaths per year, or 1,300 Americans dying every day. One proven method to cut smoking and enhance health outcomes is the use of electronic cigarettes. Unfortunately, federal and state regulators have pushed a hostile regulatory environment targeting the use of electronic cigarettes based on flawed science, denying consumers access to this potentially life-saving harm reduction tool.
These measures have been prompted by a misguided and factually incorrect belief that vaping and electronic cigarettes are dangerous, leading children to smoke combustible cigarettes. This rhetoric is used by federal, state, and municipal regulators to justify bans on flavored electronic cigarettes, onerous limitations on where retailers can sell electronic cigarettes, and the implementation of excessive taxes on these products.
Recent evidence from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), however, has debunked this belief, revealing fewer young are using electronic cigarettes than previously claimed. In 2020, 4.47 million high school and middle school students use any sort of tobacco product, according to the CDC, down from 6.20 million in 2019, This amounts to around one in every five high school students and one in every 15 middle school students. These numbers are considerably lower than previously reported.
Government officials who have used young adults and schoolchildren as justification for further regulation of electronic cigarettes also ignore how young people view these products. A survey conducted by Truth Initiative found that 62% of teenagers think that e-cigarettes cause harm, and 28% believe they cause significant harm. A recognition that almost every teenager views these products as dangerous presents a paradox in advocates’ arguments.
Moreover, electronic cigarette safety has been validated by a plethora of studies. Researchers from the United Kingdom, for example, have found that e-cigarettes are at least 95% safer compared to combustible tobacco products such as cigarettes or cigars. Similarly, in a month-long study published by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology of 114 smokers in 2019 also showed that vaping could lower the risk of a heart attack and a stroke. In order to prevent harm to public health, electronic cigarettes can be an effective way to curb smoking and help smokers switch to safer alternatives.
While the government’s goal is to curb harm and improve Americans’ health, the bans on electronic cigarettes dismiss the long-term implications of limiting people’s options to consider healthier and safer products.
The government’s handling of electronic cigarettes leaves consumers with less options, including being forced to quit smoking or endure the side effects of combustible smoking. A summary published in the Cochrane Library Database of Systematic Reviews in 2020 shows that e-cigarettes were more effective at helping people quit smoking than traditional nicotine-replacement therapies and nicotine-free alternatives. The six-month abstinence rate from cigarettes for people who used vaping devices was 10%, compared with only 6% of people using nicotine-replacement therapies and 4% of people receiving behavioral support.
Despite all the evidence, advocates of further regulation routinely ignore these studies by exclusively focusing their attention on the flawed assumptions that young adults are using electronic cigarettes in substantial numbers and then turning to combustible products. This line of argument, however, will only serve to deny consumers access to proven smoking cessation products and make it harder for those who want to quit to succeed.
Efforts to overly regulate electronic cigarettes are based on demonstrably false arguments, and it harms smokers in the long run as well. Most serious is the fact that this argument denies adult consumers access to a product that is not only safer than combustible products, but a product that has been shown to improve smoking abstinence rates. The net result will be that more Americans will needlessly suffer from the long-term health effects of smoking.
If Congress, federal regulators, and state legislatures truly want to improve health outcomes for smokers, they should base policies on empirical evidence, not debunked and misguided beliefs.
Pauline Kabambi is a Policy Intern at the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit educational and research organization. For more information about the Institute, visit www.TheAmericanConsumer.org or follow us on Twitter @ConsumerPal.