Misinformation regarding e-cigarettes is alarmingly ubiquitous. For example, days ago, the Saporta Report published an article discussing juveniles’ supposed rampant e-cigarette usage. Georgia State University recently released a dubious study claiming that vaping doesn’t help people quit smoking. Meanwhile, other institutions have allegedly exposed vaping’s dire health risks.
These are misleading and, at times, false claims. Unfortunately, they are widespread and have already been the impetus for proposed statutory changes intended to limit access to e-cigarettes in Georgia and around the country. The simple truth, however, is that vaping’s benefits far outweigh combustible cigarette’s risks. As such, state and local governments should do more to promote e-cigarettes as a safer alternative for adults.
Efforts to restrict e-cigarette usage have been primarily based on the assumption that they are like traditional cigarettes. This is not only incredibly damaging, it’s also far from the truth. Indeed, Public Health England – the UK’s version of the Department of Health and Human Services – has found that e-cigarettes are 95 percent safer than combustible ones. The American Cancer Society itself has admitted that vaping presents a reduced risk. In fact, even the Office of the Surgeon General has stated that the effects of e-cigarettes on the body are similar to those of nicotine gum, patches and lozenges.
The reason for their increased safety is largely because e-cigarettes don’t use the traditional cigarette combustion process that releases over 7,000 chemicals. Rather, they rely on much less harmful vaporization.
Regardless of their reduced risks, however, a recent Georgia State University study concluded that e-cigarettes do not help individuals quit smoking, and news of this report has been making waves in the media. However, the study’s authors freely admit that their examination has limitations, including the fact that the sample size may be insufficient to draw any conclusions. The report has a far more serious flaw that makes its findings highly questionable: Individuals who already quit smoking traditional cigarettes by using e-cigarettes weren’t counted as recent ex-smokers in the study. Put simply, this means that the research misidentified the very population of respondents that had already successfully accomplished the very thing for which they were testing.
Despite GSU’s conclusions, e-cigarettes are quickly becoming the most popular quit tool in the United States and they have contributed to tens of thousands of individuals ceasing to smoke in England. Based on these findings, there’s reason to believe that e-cigarettes are having the same effect in Georgia. In turn, they may even be limiting the broader risks associated with secondhand smoke by reducing the number of people using traditional cigarettes.
While there are many positives related to vaping, it is still important to discourage juveniles from using nicotine altogether. To date, it is already illegal for youths to purchase these products, and campaigns to educate adolescents on tobacco have been ongoing.
Nevertheless, safeguarding juveniles has spurred lawmakers into seeking further preventative measures. In doing so, however, they often rely on misleading numbers that present youth usage as a worsening epidemic. For example, most analyses identify any juvenile who has taken a single puff from a vaping device in the past 30 days as a current user. This definition simply doesn’t comport with the general understanding of what a current or regular nicotine user really is. It’s also particularly misleading when more reliable research is ignored that demonstrates that traditional cigarette usage is the lowest it’s ever been among youths.
The bottom line is that roughly 480,000 people die annually in the United States from smoking-related illnesses. Yet, e-cigarettes are quite clearly less hazardous than combustible ones and have the potential to aid those attempting to quit smoking. Given that around 18 percent of Georgians are current traditional cigarette smokers, vaping can help thousands in the Peach State reduce these otherwise certain health risks. Rather than attempting to over-regulate and restrict a product that can benefit so many people, pragmatic policymakers should be encouraging its use as an alternative.
Marc Hyden is the Southeast region director with the R Street Institute, and he is a long-time Georgia resident. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.