There is a lot of focus on smoking in November because each year the American Lung Association spends the month focusing on lung cancer awareness and the American Cancer Society holds its annual Great American Smoke-Out. Strangely, during the push to quit smoking, there is no support for using safer alternatives for those who cannot give up smoking. Not only is there no mention of these known safer alternatives, but there is a misinformation campaign to discourage the use of safer alternatives.
Vapor products have disrupted the market as a consumer-driven product providing an alternative to smoking. There is no combustion involved, which means there is no smoke. Instead, the liquid in an e-cigarette is heated to create an aerosol with fewer chemicals than cigarette smoke. The vapor is inhaled by the user like a combustible cigarette. There is no tobacco in an e-cigarette. Because vapes often contain nicotine, which can come from tobacco or other sources, the Food and Drug Administration deemed vapor products to be tobacco products in 2016 and began regulating them.
After struggling for years to quit smoking, millions of consumers in the United States have switched to vapor products and no longer smoke. Rather than celebrating their success, the American Lung Association undermines the accomplishment of those who formerly smoked and told them they haven’t really quit smoking.
Instead of campaigning for better enforcement of the laws prohibiting the sale of vapor products to minors, the American Cancer Society took the stance of completely ignoring the millions of adults (many of them parents) who used vapor technology to help themselves quit smoking. Previously, the ACS claimed that “switching to the exclusive use of e-cigarettes is preferable to continuing to smoke combustible products.” After the 2019 surge in youth usage of vapor products, the ACS advised that e-cigarettes “should not be used to quit smoking.” Despite a 50 percent reduction in youth e-cigarette use, they have yet to change their stance.
Cancer-related trade organizations are also opposing the use of vapor products for people who cannot quit smoking. They fail to educate the public on the reduced risks of vaping versus the long-known risks of smoking and do nothing to promote the principles of harm reduction.
The Oncology Nursing Society recently updated its position statement on vaping. Unfortunately, the ONS statement contains misinformation claiming vaping is as toxic as secondhand smoke. ONS also perpetuates the myth that nicotine vapor products caused vaping lung injuries, which we now know was caused by contraband vapor products containing THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) from cannabis, not nicotine.
The American Association for Cancer Research and the American Society of Clinical Oncology recently updated their 2015 policy statement. In 2015 they said that the “elimination of combustible tobacco products would dramatically reduce the burden of tobacco-related death and disease,” and that they “support every effort to reduce the use of combustible tobacco,” finding e-cigarettes “as potentially harmful, and potentially beneficial products in this regard.” Yet, in 2022, their only focus is on youth, effectively driving use by adults who smoke away from the potential benefits of vapor products.
In the United Kingdom, Cancer Research UK found that e-cigarettes “are far less harmful than smoking” and that for people who smoke, “e-cigarettes are an option to help them stop.” It is shameful that health groups in the United States lag so far behind their counterparts in the UK, who are helping people who can’t stop smoking simply by suggesting they switch to safer alternatives.
More than 16 million people in the United States currently suffer from smoking-caused illnesses, with 480,000 dying yearly of smoking-related diseases. Tragically, 5.6 million children living today will die of smoking-related causes if the country doesn’t continue to work to end youth smoking initiation.
While everyone can agree that the best thing for lung health is to inhale nothing but fresh (unpolluted) air, those who choose to use nicotine should be encouraged to switch to a safer alternative. Most people who smoke want to quit, with many trying all sorts of methods, including FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapies to cold turkey to hypnosis and acupuncture. While these methods work for some people, they don’t work for everyone.
For people who can’t quit smoking, there are two choices. Either society can look the other way while those who smoke get sick and die, or people who smoke can be encouraged to switch to a safer alternative. Encouraging them to switch is the right thing to do, and it’s appalling to see public health groups choose to leave them smoking instead.