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Berkley Professor says health officials should encourage 'vaping over smoking'

Posted by Matt Rowland on

A  highly-regarded law professor from the University of California Berkley is approaching the subject of vaping as a smoking cessation tool from a legal rather than ethical viewpoint.  According to Professor Stephen D. Sugarman, the U.S. government is missing a tremendous opportunity to advance public health by refusing to encourage vaping as a nicotine replacement therapy.

Sugarman lays out his argument in favor of vaping by beginning with the well-documented statistics surrounding deaths rates attributed to smoking.  15 percent of the American population are current, active smokers.  As a result, more than 480,000 deaths occur from smoking related illness each and every year.

He also notes that such reputable government agencies as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also consider smoking to be the “nation’s largest preventable cause of death.”  By comparison, the number of cumulative deaths from car accidents and gun shots every year would only equal one-tenth of the number attributed to smoking.

Berkley Professor: ‘Vaping does not involve smoke’

So, why is the federal government still refusing to endorse vaping as a smoking cessation tool?  Professor Sugarman believes it all comes down to pure, old-fashioned ignorance.  Politicians simply can’t wrap their heads around the fact that vaping is not smoking.  In a recently published Op-Ed, Sugarman makes his position crystal clear.

“Given the widespread but often unsuccessful efforts to quit smoking, one might think that U.S. health officials would welcome a new and far less dangerous substitute behavior: vaping. Unfortunately, regulators so far mistakenly have treated vaping akin to smoking, rather than embracing vaping’s smoking-cessation potential…”
“Because vaping does not involve smoke from a burned leaf, it is dramatically less dangerous than is smoking, according to current evidence. Indeed, public health officials in the United Kingdom, estimate that vaping is 20 times less dangerous than smoking. In addition to being less dangerous than smoking, vaping also has proven to be an effective smoking-cessation strategy. Surveys of U.S. vapers show that many of them used to smoke cigarettes and now no longer do so. Indeed, many vape as a transition from nicotine use to non-use, and in due course, neither smoke nor vape.”

Sugarman also takes issue with the widespread and often promoted belief by agencies like the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that suggest nicotine, in itself, is addictive.  Smoking, he admits, is highly addictive, but that is because the included tobacco is laced with thousands of toxins and chemicals specifically chosen by Big Tobacco decades ago to induce the addictive quality.

Vaping devices, or rather the related e-liquids inside, are 100% tobacco-free and therefore do not come with the same sorts of toxic baggage.

What do anti-vaping activists and Nancy Reagan have in common?

Sugarman goes on to suggest that this ignorance of public health officials on the differences between smoking and vaping is leading to a rather puritanical belief system that is negatively and significantly affecting public health.  Politicians, or perhaps their voting constituents in Home Town, USA, still seemingly believe that quitting smoking is simply a matter of willpower – or lack thereof.   He further equates many anti-vaping activists to those early, staunch supporters of the Just Say No anti-drug campaign of the 1980s.

“Some critics are what might most fittingly be called Nancy Reagan acolytes. They argue that people who smoke should simply say “no”; if only they were to do so, these critics claim, vaping would not be needed as a cessation strategy at all. For these public health crusaders, vaping is just an unneeded distraction. In their view, the patch and the gum suffice for those needing transitional help ending their use of nicotine (although the typical smoker who tries vaping has previously tried—and failed—to quit with the patch, the gum, or both). These observers view the recent sharp drop in U.S. smoking rates as a development that has occurred independently of the advent of vaping.”

So, how might public health officials and politicians begin to behave different towards the new trend that is vaping and e-cigs?  The Law Professor from Berkeley lays out a very detailed, yet simple, plan of action.

    1. Instead of implementing FDA deeming regulations that impose hefty taxes on the vaping industry by way of a Pre-Market Tobacco Application process previously reserved for only Big Tobacco products, lawmakers should begin by raising the taxes on combustible cigarettes even higher. Sugarman suggests another tax increase of $1.50 per pack is perhaps long overdue.
    2. The federal healthcare system should begin actively encouraging the use of vaping products as a smoking cessation tool. When physicians recommend vaping to their smoking patients, the U.S. government should pick up part of the tab for new vaping equipment needed to make the initial transition more affordable, and thereby attractive, to the patient.
    3. The FDA should then focus its energies on forcing Big Tobacco to make their combustible cigarettes “less satisfying” (ie: less tasty) to the average smoker. The FDA could force the tobacco companies to reduce the levels of nicotine, for example, or perhaps the numbers of various toxins and included chemicals that makes smoking cigarettes so addictive.

Sugarman also warns that political officials should start considering the notion that vaping may not be here to stay. Vaping may only be a passing fad, a transitional stepping stone to new, more advanced technology yet to be invented – a technology that might take nicotine out of the equation permanently and completely for both vapers and smokers alike in the very near future. In the meantime, he says, “under the Trump Administration, perhaps vaping will be viewed in a different light.”


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