Dear Surgeon General and Public Health Agencies, Anti-Vaping Policies Are Bad for Public Health
In 1964, public health experts began an all-out assault on smoking when the Surgeon General released his landmark report on smoking and health. Today, the reported smoking rate among adults is down to 15 percent.
Still, cigarette smoking remains the nation’s leading preventable cause of premature death due to 37 million people who can’t or won’t quit. These people could benefit tremendously if they switched to products such as electronic cigarettes that deliver nicotine much more safely than conventional cigarettes.
Yet, perversely, the very government agencies dedicated to fighting smoking have turned on smokers themselves by systematically distorting the ample evidence on the vast benefits of alternative products.
The new Surgeon General’s report on e-cigarettes is a recent unfortunate example. Immediately, the title seems off: E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults. To be sure, it is appropriate to report on vaping among teens, but, incomprehensibly, the report completely ignores adults over age 24, the very population for whom vaping products are intended – and the group for which all those smoking-related deaths will come over the next 20 years.
The massively reduced risk of e-cigarettes -- estimated at 95 percent less harmful than smoking by the UK Royal College of Physicians– lies in the fact that they don’t burn tobacco. This means they deliver the nicotine that smokers crave without the cancer-causing tar that kills them.
Yet, there are the only two mentions in the entire 251-page report of the compelling potential of e-cigarettes to reduce smokers' risk for smoking-related disease and premature mortality. Merely two investigations plucked from a robust literature of hundreds of empirical, theoretical and policy studies.
The Surgeon General also animates the specter of a "gateway" effect whereby, theoretically, teen vapers progress to smoking by virtue of first having vaped. This would be of concern if it were happening. But it is not.
Youth smoking has fallen to historic lows, despite—or perhaps because of—greater numbers of teenagers experimenting with e-cigarettes. Nowhere in the report, however, does the heartening news about diminished teen smoking appear. Nor does the Surgeon General even cite two studies suggesting that state-based age-restrictions of e-cigarette purchasing might actually increase smoking in youth.
As for the Food and Drug Administration, it too has seemed to do its best to impede vaping. This spring, it imposed burdensome regulations that will endanger the smaller vaping companies that account for much of the innovation in the industry. Already two companies have gone into bankruptcy.
Next is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency not only foments alarmism over e-cigarettes, it has actually concealed -- yes, concealed -- data on another reduced harm product that smokers need to know about: smokeless tobacco.
Today's smokeless is a moist, spit-less product; it often comes in a small teabag-like pouch, inserted between the lip and gum. The strongest evidence on its health effects compared to cigarettes comes from decades of data on Swedish men who have used a product called snus, another moist oral tobacco. As a result, Sweden has the lowest rate of smoking-related diseases in Europe, the lowest rate of lung cancer in males, and one of the lowest rates of male mouth cancer in Western Europe.
Smokers, their families, and doctors need to know about this safer choice, yet the CDC website promotes an abstinence-only agenda: “Using smokeless products can cause serious health problems...if you do use them, quit.”
Meanwhile, the government’s own data – negligently unreleased but obtained by researchers at Altria -- yes, Altria, the tobacco company formerly known as Philip Morris – show that death from cardiac disease, cancer, and lower-respiratory disease, are comparable between users of smokeless and those who don’t use any tobacco product.  By comparison, cigarette users have about a 50 percent chance of premature death.
What’s going on? Incredibly, the agencies’ leaders appear to see any nicotine use as a moral failure rather than a public health issue. To them, all nicotine and tobacco products are equally evil, echoing earlier approaches to alcohol. They think they are battling the hated Big Tobacco, when in fact they are protecting its deadliest product -- cigarettes -- while misinforming the public.
Our lead public health agencies – CDC, FDA, and the Surgeon General’s office – have been shamefully derelict in their duty to protect the health of smokers and empower them.
Many of the nation’s millions of smokers would surely switch to reduced harm alternatives if they knew the truth about them. But government agencies are keeping the facts under quarantine.