Alarm Over Vaping Causing Unintended Consequences

The news of e-cigarette maker NJoy declaring bankruptcy this fall came alongside a flattening of e-cigarette sales in the United States. The decline of e-cigarette popularity just a decade after they were first introduced could be due to the increasing popularity of more powerful vaping devices that deliver better performance. Meanwhile, the U.S. government and the country’s health organizations are doing their part to warn people against the perceived dangers of vaping, though many experts say this is a wrongheaded move that could be hurting smokers by scaring them away from what could be a safe and effective method of quitting smoking.

One only has to look to other countries to see a very different attitude towards vaping as an alternative to smoking. In Britain, a highly respected physicians’ organization recently announced that e-cigarettes or vaping is 95 percent less dangerous than smoking. This has led to British health officials encouraging smokers to switch to vaping.

But in the U.S., no such message is heard, and instead people are warned that vaping may be as dangerous as or even more dangerous than smoking. Without evidence to back up these claims, the general warning is that we simply don’t know enough about e-cigarettes to be sure. A growing number of scientists and politicians are beginning to question this tactic of warning-without-evidence, and they say that the actual evidence thus far shows nothing to suggest that e-cigarettes are harmful. While some U.S. policymakers are happy to treat e-cigarettes as a twin of tobacco without real evidence that vaping is harmful, some others are questioning this anti-vaping attitude, and saying it could be doing disservice to millions of smokers.

The vapor produced by e-cigarettes and personal vaporizers usually contains nicotine, but it does not contain deadly “tar” and other toxic chemicals that are found in tobacco cigarettes. Nevertheless, many U.S. states are passing laws that treat vaping as if it is identical to smoking. High taxes are being put on the liquid used in e-cigarettes and vaporizer, and vaping is routinely banned wherever smoking cigarettes is banned. The Truth Initiative, an anti-smoking group, supports vaping as an alternative to smoking and says that the U.S. anti-vaping agenda could lead to more lives lost to smoking.

A report from Georgia State University on attitudes of Americans towards smoking and vaping showed that in 2015, 40 percent of people asked said that they believe that e-cigarettes are as dangerous or more dangerous than tobacco cigarettes. Just three years earlier in 2012, only 13 percent believed that e-cigarettes were as bad as or worse than smoking. An ethicist at the Harvard School of Public Health attributes public opinion to the government’s inclusion of e-cigarettes as tobacco products. He says that without knowing more than the fact that laws are being passed against vaping, people assume it’s as dangerous as smoking.

A Canadian lawyer put the issue into perspective with this comparison: The attitude in the United States “is the same as asking, ‘What are the relative risks of jumping out a fourth-story window versus taking the stairs?’” says David Sweanor of the University of Ottawa Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics. “These guys are saying: ‘Look, these stairs, people could slip, they could get mugged. We just don’t know yet.’”

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