Sunday, August 24, 2014

American Heart Association: regulate e-cigarettes, for the children

E-cigarettes are far safer and less expensive than cigarettes, and they're allowing  millions of smokers to quit a deadly habit. So it's with great excitement that I report that public health advocates everywhere are embracing e-cigarettes as a victory in the fight against smoking.

If only.

The American Heart Association announced on Sunday that e-cigarettes need to be regulated because they "could serve as a gateway drug to addict young people, who may go on to regular cigarettes or smokeless tobacco." Yep, they trotted out the same trope they always do: ban them for the children.

Everybody loves children, so this argument is usually a good way to tug at heartstrings, but it doesn't work in the case of e-cigarettes. There simply is no scientific case to be made in favor of further regulating the smoking alternatives.

photo credit: wikimedia commons

Having used an e-cigarette to quit smoking, I've always suspected that most e-cigarette users (colloquially called "vapers") are in the same position. Researchers have confirmed that this is true of adult vapers, and we now know that it's also true of teenagers. Studies show that teenagers who have tried e-cigarettes were already smokers before trying the smoking alternatives. But this may be a moot point. Recent research shows that e-cigarette use among teenagers is very low anyway, and trying an e-cigarette a few times and regularly using one are very different things, of course. Most teenagers fall into the former category.

15 minutes into writing this blog post and the core of the AHA's argument has been obliterated. Let's have a look at a few peripheral points they make.

Though [e-cigarettes] don't contain many of the harmful chemicals of conventional cigarettes, the FDA found trace amounts of toxic and carcinogenic ingredients in several samples... "
Indeed--the same trace amounts found in pharmaceutical smoking cessation products. Quick, let's ban nicotine patches and gum, for the children of course. The dose makes the poison, friends. Say it until you memorize it, then say it five more times, just for good measure. Absent most of the harmful carcinogens in tobacco smoke and in the low doses found in e-cigarettes, nicotine is nothing more than a mild stimulant. Put two and two together and you get a non-toxic product.

Electronic cigarettes should be classified as tobacco products and subject to the same laws and regulations as other tobacco products,” said Vince Willmore, spokesman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
Why should they be? They contain no tobacco, there's no combustion involved in their use and they're harmless, so far as we can tell. If we're going to classify e-cigarettes as tobacco products, we should also put sugar-free juice drinks and makeup in the same category, since all three contain propylene glycol, which the FDA says is safe.

The heart association's statement urges communities and states to include e-cigarettes in their smoke-free laws, to avoid “renormalizing” smoking in public places.
 E-cigarettes do not "renormalize" smoking. They simply allow former smokers to consume nicotine without huddling in an isolated corner for a cigarette. All those people you now see vaping e-cigarettes as they walk down the street were probably smokers who couldn't smoke everywhere they went. Parenthetically, renormalize smoking means "to make smoking common again," which isn't possible since e-cigarettes are not cigarettes.

'Any additional delay of these new regulations will have real, continuing public health consequences,' said Nancy Brown, CEO of the heart association. 
 I hope so. With any luck, science will prevail and these inane regulations will be shot down in short order, and more smokers will continue switching to e-cigarettes.

1 comment:

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