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Vaping restrictions increase prenatal smoking rates by 30%, says study

A recent study from American economists warns that excessive government oversight of the vaping industry may increase smoking rates among pregnant women by as much as 30 percent.  Banning electronic cigarettes in bars, restaurants, and the workplace may be counterproductive to the national public health efforts regarding tobacco harm reduction. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 55 percent of women who are actively smoking three months before becoming pregnant will successful quit smoking during the early stages of their pregnancy.  In the past, conventional Nicotine Replacement Therapies (NRTs) have helped to bolster their chances of success.  With the rise in popularity of vaping technology in recent years, the study suggests that public health agencies should support vaping in public places rather than demonize it.

“Indoor e-cigarette restrictions may reduce the attractiveness of vaping by requiring the user to make an additional time investment to use their devices, either outdoors or in non-regulated indoor areas.  This added inconvenience may reduce e-cigarette use and increase tobacco use for those who otherwise prefer to smoke cigarettes.”

- Michael Pesko, economist from Georgia State University per the published report, Indoor E-cigarette Restrictions Increase Prenatal Smoking

The vaping study entitled The effect of e-cigarette indoor vaping restrictions on adult prenatal smoking and birth outcomes is co-authored by Michael Pesko together with his colleague from the University of California, Michael Cooper, also from the school’s Department of Economics.  The full document is readily available via the Journal of Health Economics.  In the study’s abstract, the economists propose that the current cross-sectional models suggesting vaping bans somehow curb smoking rates simultaneously are grossly inaccurate.

“Our panel model results suggest that adoption of a comprehensive indoor vaping restriction increased prenatal smoking by 2.0 percentage points, which is double the estimate obtained from a cross-sectional model. We also document heterogeneity in effect sizes along lines of age, education, and type of insurance.” 

The research also indicates that cities with indoor vaping bans in place tend to witness a slowing in the declines of prenatal smoking by as much as 30 percent as compared to regions without vaping bans.  By making e-cigs as inconvenient to use as conventional cigarettes, pregnant women are far more likely to fall victim to their cravings to smoke, which is the usual preference given the choice between vaping and smoking.  In short, vaping bans essentially eradicate the primary attractive qualities of electronic cigarettes – their adaptability and ease of use. 

Vaping bans mislead smokers into thinking vaping is just as bad as smoking.

The Public Health England organization in accordance with the Royal College of Physicians released a 2015 study claiming that electronic cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful than combustible cigarettes.  In a follow-up blog posted in May of 2016, The UK government further claims that the health risks of vaping during pregnancy are a mere fraction compared to those of smoking.

Co-authors Cooper and Pesko suggest that these vaping restrictions are either intentionally or unintentionally sending the wrong message that the health risks of vaping are identical to those of conventional cigarettes, which is inherently untrue.

“Governments should be cautious on the messaging they send, through regulations, on the relative risks of different smoking cessation products. Ideally, products should be regulated proportionate to their level of risk.”

According to the report, approximately 11 percent of pregnant women are still smoking at the time of delivery.  Region-specific rates range from as low as 2 percent to as high as 25 percent.  These figures equate to about 70,000 infants being born every year to mothers who smoke, which is another significant reason that vaping as a tobacco harm reduction tool should be endorsed aggressively by public health organizations.


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