April 11, 2015
“It is an ethical duty and obligation of all scientists to present the truth to the public and stop playing games which cost lives every day.” Konstantinos Farsalinos
A recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that general perception of the safety of e-cigarettes is declining. In 2010 almost 85% of smokers believed that e-cigarettes represented a safer option. In 2013 that number had declined to 65%. Why?
In his response to this study, Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos stated:
“The finding that people (specifically smokers) do not believe that e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco cigarettes is a clear indication that the part of the tobacco control movement who is ideologically opposing e-cigarettes are doing a pretty good job in MISINFORMING the public.”
Shortly after reading the results of this study, I ran across a recent example of the misinformation Dr. Farsalinos refers to. The following are statements taken from that article. It is not my intent to embarrass anyone (regardless of how deserving they may be) so I will not provide links. Names of individuals or organization are fictitious. My comments, follow each statement.
“[Dr.”Jones”], director of [“Organization X”] which works to help smokers quit believes e-cigarettes aren’t the best alternative to reducing tobacco cravings.”
Certainly everyone, including this doctor, is entitled to their opinion. I read on anxious to discover what the “best alternative to reducing tobacco cravings” is.
“The problem is that although e-cigarettes could be less harmful, people need to know that less harmful is not the same as safe.”
Perhaps I’m naïve but I doubt that many people confuse “less harmful” with “safe”. On the other hand, people will question “could be less harmful”. Many of the staunchest opponents of e-cigarettes, however grudgingly, concede that e-cigarettes are less harmful than combustible tobacco products.
“E-cigarettes are fairly new, and scientists do not know enough about the chemicals that are produced by smoking them.”
Few on either side of the debate question the need for additional studies. The question is how much is, or will ever be, “enough”? How much is needed to reach a consensus that e-cigarettes are a “less harmful” alternative to tobacco cigarettes?
“The long-term effects are still unknown, and scientists will learn more about them in future years.”
How long is “future years”? Five years? Ten? Twenty? In the U.S. alone, 540,000 people are dying every year from smoking related diseases. That number is six million worldwide – every year.
“E-cigarettes deliver nicotine, an active chemical found in tobacco smoke that causes addiction.”
A factual statement. One that should be accompanied by a few more factual statements. People smoke for the nicotine. They die from the smoke created by combustion products. The combustion of tobacco, not nicotine, is responsible for the death rate from smoking.
Dr. “Jones” admitted e-cigarettes “are less harmful than conventional cigarettes…”
Now he or she has transitioned in the space of a couple of paragraphs from “could be less harmful” to “are less harmful” – we’re making progress.
“…but the nicotine content can still keep e-cigarette users addicted.”
If nicotine was not highly addictive, there would be nothing to debate. So exactly what is the point? E-cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes but both contain addictive nicotine therefor…what? Keep smoking those conventional cigarettes? If you cannot or will not stop smoking? Whatever you do, you certainly don’t want to consider a potentially less harmful alternative?
“One of the concerns with e-cigarette use is that current smokers won’t completely stop using tobacco, but will instead use the e-cigarette as a way to get around clean indoor air laws and policies,”
So the underlying implication is that reducing the number of cigarettes smoked has no benefit? It must be all or nothing? Sounds like more of the same nonsense that the CDC is eager to have the uninformed believe.
At last count 40 states have passed laws and policies including e-cigarettes under the same “clean air laws” that apply to conventional cigarettes. The wisdom of that could be debated but that’s for another post. This “concern” is pretty much a moot point.
“[Clinical coordinator] at [“Organization X”] urges students to find a more effective way to help people quit smoking. Although e-cigarettes might work for a few people, it is not a cure for everyone.”
Please, please share with students a clinically proven “more effective way to help people quit smoking”. One that is “a cure for everyone”.
“I do not see that electronic cigarettes, as they are currently configured, are helping people to quit. I do not see that electronic cigarettes in their current form are making a difference with our treatment population.”
So let me make sure I have this straight. You work at an organization dedicated to helping folks kick the tobacco cigarette habit. In that capacity, you don’t see that electronic cigarettes are making a difference with your “treatment population”. Which presumably is all current smokers. If they aren’t current smokers, what treatment are they seeking? What percentage of your “treatment population” is former smokers who have successfully quit smoking by using e-cigarettes or any other means?
“Almost all people who come to us for help have tried e-cigarettes and are still smoking.”
Clearly e-cigarettes are obviously not a good alternative. If they were, people who have successfully quit smoking using e-cigarettes would be coming to us for “treatment”. To quit smoking. Then we would know that e-cigarettes are an effective alternative! Seriously?
“We do not encourage e-cigarettes since not enough research has been conducted on the potentially harmful effects. Instead, we highly recommend a few Food and Drug Administration-approved medications.”
Highly researched FDA approved medications that have a 5 to 10 percent success rate. Or put another way, a 90 to 95 percent failure rate. Odd that no mention is made of the number of people who come to them for treatment that have previously tried FDA approved medications. And are still smoking. E-cigarette failures are important. FDA approved nicotine replacement therapy failures – irrelevant?
“Best success in quitting comes from use of one or more of seven FDA-approved medications: [the] nicotine patch, nicotine gum, nicotine lozenges, nicotine inhaler, nicotine nasal spray, Chantix [and] Bupropion.”
Perhaps this would be a good place to quantify “best success”? Five, maybe ten percent? What about well-publicized studies in the U.K., the U.S., Belgium and most most recently in Italy that show substantially higher success rates using e-cigarettes?
“Besides the unknown harms of e-cigarette vapor, could these products be a gateway to tobacco use through their addictive nicotine content? Certainly, there is appeal to these products, even among non-smokers.”
“Certainly”? A number of studies have shown that almost 100% of e-cigarette users are current smokers. Adult smoking rates are declining – worldwide. Youth smoking rates are declining – worldwide. E-cigarette usage rates are increasing – worldwide. Could these products be a gateway from combustible tobacco?
“Tobacco use drains people of money, time, health [and] stamina. People deserve evidence-based treatment, not gimmicks.”
People deserve an unbiased, objective presentation of the facts. People deserve accurate information. People deserve to make their own informed decisions.
It is inexcusable that public health statements “… are doing a pretty good job in MISINFORMING the public.” The truth may not always be popular, but it’s always the truth.
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