ACSH Claims Smokers Could Quit With Help of E Cigarettes

For years industry critics have attacked e-cigarettes as either ineffectual in helping smokers wean off the habit or even hazardous to the health of users. Some have gone so far as to call for a ban on the sale and use of e-cigarettes, based on claims that they are harmful. The e-cigarette industry has fought hard to defend their products, and it recently gained new supporters from a most unlikely source.

A recent open letter to the Center for Tobacco Products at the FDA was drafted by two prominent medical professionals who sit on the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), a nonprofit organization that produces peer reviewed articles on subjects related to nutrition, health and the environment. In the letter Dr. Elizabeth Whelan and Dr. Gilbert Ross urged lawmakers to set aside ideology and base any future policy changes on science rather than emotion.

An Industry Under Attack

Drs. Whelan and Ross claim that anti-smoking lobby groups are now using the same misleading tactics in their effort to affect policy on e-cigarettes as the tobacco industry used for decades in their defence of tobacco cigarettes. The letter argues that while the FDA asserts that e-cigarettes “may contain ingredients that are known to be toxic to humans, and may contain ingredients that may not be safe,” the important distinction to make in this case is that e-cigarettes are the healthier option compared to tobacco cigarettes.

The ACSH argues that the denunciation of the value of e-cigarettes in the effort to reduce and prevent smoking is strongly influenced by the ideologies of anti-smoking groups. The supposedly harmful effects of e-cigarettes have been used by anti-smoking groups to lobby the FDA and Washington lawmakers in an effort to have them controlled or outlawed, but in truth the science clearly points to the conclusion that e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco cigarettes.

A Refusal to Listen

For several years the FDA has refused to be drawn into a public debate over e-cigarettes, preferring to leave the issue to anti-smoking groups and pro-tobacco lobbyists. In a 2009 FDA report the body was unwilling to quantify the safety of e-cigarettes compared to tobacco cigarettes.

However, peer reviewed scientific tests have shown that the negative health effects caused by smoking are primarily due to the thousands of chemicals and carcinogens found in the smoke, while nicotine itself is relatively benign. Further, damage to the lungs of smokers is also caused by smoke, while the water vapor given off by e-cigarettes causes little or no harm.

The facts are clear: e-cigarettes are objectively and demonstrably less harmful to smokers than tobacco cigarettes, carrying a lower risk of serious health impacts such as cancer, lung damage and heart disease.

The Danger of Failing to Act

The issue, of course, may have an enormous impact on the health of smokers and the long term cost to the US healthcare system. Should anti-smoking groups successfully lobby for tighter controls on e-cigarettes, smokers attempting to cut back or quit will have no recourse but to return to nicotine patches and nicotine gum, both of which promise markedly lower cessation success rates than e-cigarettes.

And this brings us to the most important point. In their letter to the FDA, Drs. Whelan and Ross implored the body to reconsider their current stance on e-cigarettes. The effect of limiting access to e-cigarettes, they argued, could set back the efforts and damage the health of the 20% of Americans who continue to smoke. Allowing free access to the tools they need to help them quit, they argued, is the only way to improve the general health of Americans in the long term.

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