Stricter Regulations Are Not the Answer to Lower Smoking Rates
Regulations on the tobacco industry are nothing new to Americans. As early as the 1950s, the U.S. government has made efforts to regulate the industry, from public service announcements to advertising regulations such as the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act in 1965. It wasn’t until 2010 when the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was enacted into law that the Food and Drug Administration gained the power to regulate the tobacco industry.
The intention to curb smoking and improve public health is a common mission of governments around the world, but often the solutions they impose come in the form of burdensome regulations and misinformation campaigns.
Currently, the Republic of Georgia is on the edge of passing some of the strictest tobacco regulations around today. The new restrictions proposed before parliament would require all cigarettes to be plain-packaged, meaning the packs are stripped of their logos and replaced with plain covers with uniform font for the brand name. The proposed bill includes restrictions on advertising, a ban on smoking in public places, and regulations on e-cigarettes.
Georgia stands as a prime example of good intentions leading to government overreach. With every public health crusade comes the expansion of the state power and each new regulation places a greater burden on industry.
It is easy to rally behind increasing regulation on a business like the tobacco industry. After all, research has proves many of the health concerns related to tobacco products are valid, but are plain packaging laws really the best way to address this public health issue?
The concerns regarding plain packaging laws are numerous, but the most glaring issue is that they just don’t work. In 2012, Australia implemented Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011 in an attempt to dissuade people from purchasing cigarettes and reduce smoking rates. Recently, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released the National Drug Strategy Household Survey for 2016. The study revealed that the smoking rate for people aged 14 and older declined from 12.8 percent in 2013 to 12.2 percent in 2016, but that the decline was not statistically significant. For people aged 40 and older, there was no change in smoking rates at all. Looking at the study, it appears that the plain packaging bill had no significant impact on smoking.
If lawmakers are serious about curbing smoking, they should reconsider strict regulation on e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes are a safer alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes, in part because people inhale an aerosol that does not contain the numerous carcinogenic toxins present in traditional cigarettes. While e-cigarettes may not be completely healthy, they are healthier than lighting up the old-fashioned way.
Back in 2014, the LA Times reported that researchers from the University College London found that smokers who turned to e-cigarettes were 60 percent more likely to quit smoking than those who used nicotine replacement therapy or went cold turkey.
In 2016, a report published in the BMJ medical journal concluded that, "e-cigarette use by smokers was positively associated with the success of attempts to stop." The report also found that the increase use of e-cigarettes in England did not undermine attempts to quit smoking, but it may have caused a decrease in using alternative methods to quit.
Reason magazine’s Jacob Sullum discussed the benefits of choosing e-cigarettes over traditional cigarettes back in February, citing a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine that supports the notion that e-cigarettes are a better alternative:
“The huge difference in risk between vaping and smoking is hardly surprising, since the former involves inhaling an aerosol that typically consists of propylene glycol, glycerin, water, flavoring, and nicotine, while the latter involves inhaling tobacco smoke, which contains thousands of chemicals, hundreds of which are toxic or carcinogenic.”
Despite these findings, lawmakers—including those in the United States—have decided that e-cigarettes are just as dangerous as traditional cigarettes and require strict regulation. In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration finalized rules that placed e-cigarettes, vaporizers, and other electronic nicotine delivery systems under the same regulations as tobacco products. Despite research that shows that e-cigarettes are not as dangerous as traditional cigarettes, the FDA has lumped them together under the same regulatory heading. On the plus side, the FDA under the Trump administration has delayed enforcement of these new regulations in order to address concerns raised by the ruling. It’s a temporary fix for a bad law.
Whether in Georgia or in the United States, lawmakers should pay attention to the research and allow for innovations in the market to produce safer alternatives to traditional cigarettes. Plain-packaging and strict regulations on e-cigarettes are not the answer.
Lindsay Marchello is a Young Voices Advocate and an Associate Editor with the Carolina Journal.