Policymakers: Stop Ignoring the Science on Vapes

Policymakers: Stop Ignoring the Science on Vapes
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There is good news for America’s smokers hoping to quit. A new study authored by researchers at Kansas University, California State and San Marcos University revealed when smokers switch to non-combustible alternatives, such as electronic cigarettes, they are more likely to quit and experience better health outcomes. This finding should be no surprise to those who are familiar with past studies on e-cigarettes showing their viability as a smoking cessation device.

In contradiction to what this most recent vaping study and broader research shows, government policies continue to discourage the use of e-cigarettes. Instead of embracing electronic cigarettes as a healthier alternative to smoking, governments at both the state and federal level have imposed high taxes and regulatory burdens. If government officials want to improve public health, they should incentivize the use of e-cigarettes so that smokers can have more readily available access to vapor products that are shown to aid quitting and do not have the same long-term effects as traditional cigarettes.

The new study found that smokers who used e-cigarettes had a significantly lower number of cancer-causing carcinogens present in their lungs than those who continued to use combustible tobacco. The researchers also found that 25% of smokers assigned to use vapor products were able to quit the use of combustible cigarettes completely after six weeks.

A summary published in the Cochrane Library Database of Systematic Reviews in 2020 also backs up the finding that e-cigarettes were more effective at helping people quit smoking than traditional nicotine-replacement therapies and nicotine-free alternatives. The 6-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.

The most recent study on carcinogens also reaffirms previous research that show electronic vaping products are far safer than traditional cigarettes. A recent report conducted by Public Health England also reconfirmed that e-cigarettes are at least 95% safer than traditional cigarettes. While vaping products are not completely free from harm, they do serve as a much better alternative for people who already smoke.

Studies have also shown that switching to electronic cigarettes could extend life expectancy. 

A study conducted by Georgetown University’s Medical Center showed that switching to e-cigarettes could save up to 6.6 million lives over the next 10 years. The report also concluded those 6.6 million people could live a collective total of up to 86.7 million extra years as a result of using electronic cigarettes.

Switching to e-cigarettes would also result in lower healthcare costs. According to the Progressive Policy Institute, per capita healthcare costs for cigarette smokers are around 9% higher than e-cigarette users. The Institute calculates that just over 900,000 people ages 18-24 choosing to use e-cigarettes instead of smoking would save $11.3 billion in lifetime healthcare costs due to the minimal risks they impose compared to traditional tobacco products.

Despite the benefits of e-cigarettes as a cessation method for smokers, both state governments and the federal government heavily tax and regulate these products.

Currently, 18 states have state excise taxes on e-cigarettes, with rates as high or higher than 90% in some cases. The stimulus package passed last December under the Trump administration included a provision that prevents consumers from receiving e-cigarettes through the United States Postal Service.

These high barriers to consumption create the perception that electronic cigarettes are equally or more dangerous than their combustible counterparts. Continuing to regulate electronic cigarettes in the same way as traditional combustible products, and sometimes regulate more stringently, governments are denying consumers access to a product that can improve long-term health outcomes.

Not following the science on vaping devices could have more serious consequences. Smoking traditional cigarettes regularly is known to cause an extensive list of long-term health concerns, and e-cigarettes have not been proven to cause the same negative effects.  

When it comes to the use of e-cigarettes, the science is clear: they are not only safer, but they also help people quit. Instead of creating a regulatory environment that de-incentivizes their use, policymakers should follow the science and encourage smokers to use a product that not only improves long-term health outcomes, but also encourages smoking cessation. This can only happen if states and the federal government create a friendlier regulatory climate.

Derek Hosford is a policy analyst 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.

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