E-Cigarettes: Myths Vs. Facts
Headlines about e-cigarettes tend toward the negative and even the hyperbolic. They have described the growing popularity of vaping as a health “epidemic,” an “alarming” threat, and the “health problem of the decade.” As a result of these claims, some public health advocates are pressing federal and state governments to restrict and even prohibit the availability or expansion of the e-cigarette market. And yet, the truth is almost exactly the opposite of these extreme claims.
In reality, hardly any other product offers a more immense opportunity for reducing harm and improving public-health results than e-cigarettes. It is the perfect moment, therefore, to clarify the myths and facts about e-cigarettes and what their current popularity may and may not mean for better health and wellness.
- MYTH: E-cigarettes do not encourage smokers to quit traditional combustible cigarettes.
FACT: According to multiple studies, the opposite is the case: E-cigarettes are a proven quitting tool. A study published just last year in Nicotine and Tobacco Research concluded that “e-cigarette use contributes to a reduction in combustible cigarette use among established smokers.” A survey of American adults published in 2017 shows how “the substantial increase in e-cigarette use among US adult smokers was associated with a statistically significant increase in the smoking cessation rate.” Multiple studies in the United Kingdom have come to similar conclusions.
In fact, there is now a substantial body of research showing how e-cigarettes are an effective means of helping traditional smokers quit their cancer-stick habit. Statistics on declines in national smoking rates bear out this fact, to the point where just five years after vaping became a widespread practice, the U.S. smoking rate is now the lowest ever recorded. Recognizing these steep declines in smoking rates, major cigarette brands like Philip Morris and Altria are changing their business models and moving into the e-cigarette market, either by producing their own products or by buying into successful vaping producers.
Traditional cigarettes kill because of the carcinogens from the chemicals in the smoke. In other words, lighting up is what causes smokers harm. Since e-cigarette users don’t light up to vape, e-cigarettes don’t kill the way traditional cigarettes do.
Generally speaking, however, no addiction is healthy. Rather than banning e-cigarettes, what we need to do is gain a better understanding of the effects of long-term vaping to weigh the potential costs versus the benefits of steering people away from traditional cigarettes.
- MYTH: E-cigarettes may be a net positive for adults. But in the meantime, the success of vaping products like Juul, Vuse, MarkTen, and Logic has resulted in a youth e-cigarette epidemic.
FACT: The reality is starkly different from the hyperbole. In 2018, there was an increase in e-cigarette use among high school students, yet according to the U.S. Surgeon General’s National Youth Survey, that increase followed a two-year-long decline in teen vaping. Meanwhile Brad Rodu, Chair in Tobacco Harm Reduction Research at the University of Louisville, says federal officials are wrong to claim that nicotine is “uniquely harmful” to the developing brain. Moreover, the obsession with vaping ignores marijuana and other intoxicating drugs, which are a much greater threat to teens’ health than nicotine.
- MYTH: Even if teens don’t all vape, the ones who do are in grave danger because vaping is a bridge to traditional cigarettes.
FACT: “The national trends in vaping and cigarette smoking do not support the argument that vaping is leading to smoking” says University of Buffalo’s Lynn Kozlowski, lead researcher of a May 2017 study of 12th-graders. Indeed, according to a 2018 study led by Georgetown University’s David Levy, the opposite is more likely the case: “A long-term decline in smoking prevalence among US youth accelerated after 2013 when vaping became more widespread,” the authors report. Additionally, an April 2018 study from the Journal of Adolescent Health concludes that “most adolescent vapers reported vaping for reasons unrelated to cigarette use.”
Facts are never as simple or as stark as headlines and hyperbole, especially when the subject involves youth — our children. We are living in the age of anxiety, after all. But because of this, sticking to reality and research is all the more important. In the case of e-cigarettes, if mythology takes control of the public health debate, everyone loses — especially smokers who have the best opportunity in years to leave their deadly addiction behind.
Abby W. Schachter, the Pittsburgh-based author of “No Child Left Alone: Getting the government out of parenting” (Encounter), is an associate fellow for Harm Reduction policy at the R Street Institute.