While UK Helps Smokers Quit, U.S. Cracks Down on Vapes
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is cracking down on vape companies yet again after recently issuing new fines to four companies. These fines are a continuation of the FDA’s anti-vaping policies which have resulted in several years of burdensome restrictions, including banning flavored vapes and increasing the legal smoking age to 21.
Yet, across the pond, the UK has embraced e-cigarettes as a tool to help smokers quit. America should learn from the UK and ease restrictions on vape products and integrate them into cessation protocols, saving countless lives in the process.
America has seemingly won its “war on tobacco.” Since the 1960s, the U.S. has mandated warning labels on cigarette packaging and heavily taxed cigarette sales. Then, beginning in the 1990s and continuing into the 2000s, indoor and outdoor smoking bans were implemented across the country. These policies have helped propel a 68% decrease in smoking among adults and youth. Yet, despite this “win,” cigarette smoking remains a serious health concern. Even after decades of progress, it remains the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., accounting for 1 in 5 deaths every year. So, while U.S. policies have helped prevent many folks from becoming smokers, they have done little to help current smokers who still have difficulty quitting.
This is not to say there have been no efforts made to address cessation. Numerous public health campaigns have been undertaken to help people quit smoking by providing smokers with education, counseling, and treatment. These campaigns have helped many people quit. However, once e-cigarettes came onto the market, it became immediately clear to researchers and doctors that they could be an even more effective way to help people quit, or at the very least shift to a safer alternative.
According to the UK’s National Health Service, smokers who use e-cigarettes as cessation devices are twice as likely to quit as those using traditional cessation tools. A recent meta-analysis conducted by Cochrane, a leading British medical research group, has found similar results, indicating that six months after beginning treatment, only 6% of those using traditional treatments were still abstaining from smoking, while 9-14% of those using e-cigarettes were still abstaining. Additionally, vapes were found to be 95% safer than traditional cigarettes since they do not produce tar or carbon monoxide and reduce the concentration of harmful chemicals when inhaled.
E-cigarettes’ success as a cessation tool is largely rooted in the fact that the user can still maintain the same rituals they had with cigarettes, just in a safer way. The NHS has followed the science, and they currently recommend vapes to current smokers as a cessation tool and now even prescribe them.
In contrast, American policymakers have remained concerned that vapes might reverse declining trends in smoking, especially among teenagers. Policymakers and anti-smoking advocates cite concerns that e-cigarette companies intentionally market to youth by highlighting their fruit-flavored options, sponsoring music concerts, and using emotional appeals in their ads. In response, the FDA has banned most flavored vaping products. More recently, the FDA has also cracked down on menthol-flavored vapes relying on the same arguments.
Despite their concerns that vapes would be a gateway to smoking, research suggests that non-smoking adolescents are not likely to pick up e-cigarettes in the first place. So, U.S. regulators are fearmongering based on weak evidence that America’s youth is driving the interest in these products.
While the UK heads into the future, the U.S. is staying firmly in the dark ages on e-cigarettes. A majority of Americans still believe that vaping is as dangerous as traditional cigarettes, despite all evidence to the contrary. U.S. policymakers continue to move in a more restrictive direction, while UK policymakers have updated their practices based on the available evidence. Lost in the middle of all of these restrictions are American smokers who will never have a chance to try an effective cessation tool. Millions of Americans still smoke cigarettes every day, yet policymakers still choose to pursue the perfect in spite of the good.
The precautionary principle has held back U.S. regulators from approving life-saving vaccines in the past, and now it will stop vape companies from helping people kick their nicotine habit. In the pursuit of avoiding any and all risks, they have left behind the people at the highest risk: the lifelong smokers who have never successfully quit. The U.S. should take a cue from the UK by embracing these new e-cigarette technologies as powerful tools for smoking cessation.