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Destinee Coenen, a public health educator with the Marathon County Health Department who is part of the Central Wisconsin Tobacco Free Coalition, recently wrote this misleading and counterfactual response to a reader’s question about electronic cigarettes in the Wausau Daily Herald. WSAC responds:
Once again, public health lands on the wrong side of the vapor product debate. Public health should be encouraging smokers to switch to these safer products, rather than making baseless claims. It seems like they’d rather smokers keep smoking!
There is no evidence that vapor is “invading clean air.” In fact, the vapor has antibacterial properties.
No one claims vapor products are “healthy,” only that they are orders of magnitudes safer than conventional cigarettes. Even Mitch Zeller, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products, has stated “If we could get all of those people [who smoke] to completely switch all of their cigarettes to noncombustible cigarettes, it would be good for public health.”
These products aren’t for non-smokers, they are for smokers, who are exposed to thousands of chemicals and dozens of carcinogens. The small amount of vapor a non-smoker would be exposed to in public spaces pales in comparision to the health risks to a smoker and his family if he keeps smoking. Unfounded health scares only serve to keep those smokers smoking.
The “chemicals detected” in vapor products have not been found in harmful levels and it is disingenuous of public health officials to not disclose that fact and make it seem like there have been harmful levels found. The formadehyde story has been criticized for its inaccuracy. Formaldehyde has not been found when the products are used as intended. Researchers only found formaldehyde when the devices were heated to levels far beyond normal use. Yet, public health keeps making this false claim.
Some smokers who use e-cigarettes do continue to smoke, but they smoke less cigarettes than before. Those smokers are typically just starting out and haven’t switched completely yet. Or they are using an inferior device – like something they may have purchased at a gas station.
“Public Health officials should acknowledge that the benefits of smokers quitting smoking far outweigh the minor risks of vapor – even to bystanders.”
Even so, the FDA recently changed the requirements for nicotine replacement products, such as gums and lozenges, removing the requirement to tell consumers not to continue smoking while using the products and to use them no longer than 12 weeks. These changes were SUPPORTED by Public Health groups. According to the FDA: “There are no significant safety concerns associated with using more than one [nicotine product] at the same time, or using [a nicotine cessation product] at the same time as another nicotine-containing product—including a cigarette. If you are using [a nicotine cessation product] while trying to quit smoking but slip up and have a cigarette, you should not stop using the [nicotine cessation product]. You should keep using the [nicotine cessation product] and keep trying to quit.”
Clearly, “dual use” of those nicotine products are not a concern, so why should it be a concern for those using vapor products? Many people using e-cigarettes are still transitioning and haven’t quit fully yet. There is no evidence that those folks will NEVER quit. In fact, hundreds of thousands of smokers are reporting that they have completely quit!
E-cigarettes may not have been “proven safe,” however, after 10 years on the market, researchers have failed to find anything but minor health risks to adult smokers and no risks to bystanders. Compare that to a product public health pushes on smokers: Chantix. That product has also been on the market for 10 years, resulting in numerous reports of serious adverse effects, including over 500 deaths. Because of this, the FDA requires a “black box” warning of the serious side effects. Regardless, the FDA stated that the benefits of quitting smoking outweighed even those significant risks.
The same standard should apply to e-cigarettes and vapor products. Clearly, with no serious adverse reports, no deaths and no harmful levels of any of the chemicals detected to date, vapor products are unquestionably a benefit that outweighs the risks. It’s time Public Health officials acknowledge that fact and stop this irrational war on these products.
Should they be sold to minors? No. But it is already against the law to sell to minors in Wisconsin. However, all of the scare mongering being done by Public Health is keeping thousands adult smokers in Wisconsin from switching. THAT is what’s truly bad for Wisconsin’s children.
Wisconsin Smoke-free Alternatives Coalition
Madison, Wsconsin — January 14, 2014
In a joint press release issued Monday, the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and American Lung Association credited the state’s cessation and prevention program and recent tax increases for lowering smoking rates among adults and youth, now at 18% and 10% respectively.
At the same time, the organizations expressed dismay at the increased use of e-cigarettes, which seem not to have any impact in slowing the declining smoking rates at all. In fact, the same Wisconsin survey that found record low teen smoking rates also found the rate of Wisconsin teens using e-cigarette is 75 percent higher than the national average. Some might argue that the products may have had a hand in the significant reduction of actual smoking.
“The tobacco industry is aggressively marketing e-cigarettes to teens and young adults,” said Dona Wininsky, with the American Lung Association in Wisconsin. “Bubble gum, candy apple and cotton candy are just some of the kid-friendly e-cigarette flavors. Obviously these products are being pushed on kids and are not just another way for adults to quit
smoking,” said Wininsky.
“The claim that only youth would find these flavors appealing is a bit disingenuous,” said Kristin Noll-Marsh, of the Wisconsin Smoke-free Alternatives Coalition, a statewide group that promotes tobacco harm reduction policies. “Vodka companies sell vodka flavors in bubble gum, root beer and birthday cake. Obviously, if adult vodka drinkers like those flavors, so would adult consumers of vapor products. Even nicotine gums and lozenges come in sweet flavors like cherry, fruit chill and orange, not tobacco and menthol. E-cigarettes are about getting away from smoking and for some smokers, that includes getting as far away from the flavor of cigarettes as possible.”
Noll-Marsh says she’s shocked that public health groups want to treat vapor products as an enemy, rather than as an ally. “It’s so obvious that as the number of people using vapor products rises, the number of those smoking is going down,” she said.
“It’s like reporting a significant decline in STDs in both adults and youth and in the next breath saying you are concerned about increased use of condoms by youth.” Noll-Marsh pointed out. “Of course we’d much prefer youth remain abstinent, but demonizing a product that is obviously doing more overall good than harm makes no sense.”
The 2015 Burden of Tobacco Report released Monday by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, shows Wisconsin is losing billions of dollars to tobacco-related health care costs and lost worker productivity. The report estimates smoking costs Wisconsin $4.6 billion annually; including $3 billion in health care costs and an additional $1.6 billion in lost productivity. Tobacco use is also responsible for nearly 7,000 deaths in Wisconsin and is the cause of 80 percent of all lung cancer deaths and 14 percent of all heart attacks in the state.
“The tobacco-related health care costs are something like 99.9% related to smoking alone. So, it’s more accurate to call it “smoking-related costs,” Noll-Marsh emphasized. “And this is after a statewide smoking ban, yet another tobacco tax increase and, ironically, an “F” rating for tobacco prevention from the very American Lung Association that says those efforts have somehow still worked to lower our smoking rates. Obviously, we need new tools and strategies to cut those costs and save lives.
Noll-Marsh says tobacco harm reductions policies – which support methods such as providing safer alternatives for high risk behaviors – is what is making the difference.
“WSAC takes a realistic approach,” she said. “Just as with safe sex, we can’t keep pretending that we can get all people to stop high-risk behaviors like smoking, so providing them with a viable alternative is the next best thing. And vapor products reduce those risks to such a low level, it’s nearly as good as having gotten them to quit altogether.”
For more information,contact:
Wisconsin Smoke-free Alternatives Coalition