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The British Medical Journal published a study in June that examined the “effectiveness and safety of electronic cigarettes at 24 months.” Measuring the “sustained abstinence from tobacco cigarettes”, the study found a nearly 40% disparity between the smokers that used e-cigarettes to combat traditional tobacco cigarette smoking, and those who tried to quit without the use of e-cigarettes and other smoking cessation aids.
61 percent of the 229 e-cigarette respondents reported remaining “abstinent from tobacco,” while only 23.1 percent of the 480 tobacco smokers reported abstinence. The report is providing needed evidence in favor of the general perception of e-cigarettes and vaporized nicotine products (VNPs) as effective tobacco-harm-reduction products. According to the study’s authors, “[The study,] to date, is the only study to directly compare smokers of tobacco cigarettes only with users of e-cigarettes only.”
Speaking on behalf of the findings, the authors of the study concluded “e-cigarette use alone might support tobacco quitters remaining abstinent from tobacco.” Dual usage – using traditional tobacco cigarettes as well as e-cigarettes – did not have the same effect and “does not improve the likelihood of quitting tobacco … but may be helpful to reduce tobacco consumption.”
Numerous studies have produced evidence that legitimizes the value of e-cigarettes and VNPs as a smoking cessation tool. In 2015, Public Health England published a study that found e-cigarettes and VNPs are “95 percent less harmful than cigarettes and should be promoted as a tobacco-cessation method.” In April 2016, the Tobacco Advisory Group of the Royal College of Physicians published Nicotine without Smoke: Tobacco Harm Reduction which found a “relatively high quit rate” for users of tobacco cigarettes and that “long-term health risks associated with smoking … are unlikely to exceed 5% of those associated with smoke tobacco products.”
Despite these findings, and the lack of substantial evidence, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently ordered e-cigarettes and VNPs to be classified and regulated in the same fashion as tobacco products. The new ruling, which takes effect in August, requires any e-cigarette and VNP product that was introduced to the market after 2007 to apply for a “premarket tobacco application.”
The process is expected to be costly and could—as Jeff Stier, a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, says—limit health benefits by “the very need to have new products that are less harmful be held to a higher standard, than … the cigarette,” which Stier says “doesn’t make sense from a public health perspective.”
FDA should reconsider its position to burden the e-cigarette industry with unnecessary and costly regulations. Instead, it should acknowledge the wealth of evidence showing the benefits of these products and find ways to promote them as part of an effective tobacco-harm-reduction strategy.