In a recent Op-Ed, Dr. Neil McKeganey strongly supports e-cigarettes utility as a harm reduction device, says they should be marketed as such
Smoking continues to be one of the biggest causes of preventable death and disease across the globe. For millions of smokers, quitting is often one of the hardest things they’ll ever try. This is part of the reason why substance control expert, and Director of the Center for Substance Use Research, Dr. Neil McKeganey recently gave strong support to vaping in an Op-Ed published on the political news website, The Hill. Dr. McKeganey started by discussing the impact of the FDA’s newly commissioned, Nicotine Steering Committee. He applauds this decision to “modernize” the way that the FDA treats nicotine when not accompanied by dangerous smoke. By admitting their policy regarding nicotine is flawed, they have proven that they are building a better understanding of safe alternatives, and their effect on smokers trying to quit. But that’s just the first step according to Dr. McKeganey.
He feels that many of the regulations currently in place, such as flavor bans, have only increased the skepticism of the public, making them appear more dangerous than they actually are. This, in turn, affects the way that public health officials think about the prospect of incorporating vaping into existing smoking cessation programs. What studies show, according to Dr. McKeganey, is that e-cigarettes are a lot less dangerous than smoking, and not only that but flavors have been shown to improve the chances of successful quitting attempts. But some of those against vaping have even called for e-liquid flavors to be restricted to the two currently allowed in combustible cigarettes, tobacco, and menthol.
New FDA Commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb said during his confirmation hearing that he wonders how best to balance the ability of e-cigarettes to help smokers quit, with the inevitable attraction of some non-smokers to the not altogether harmless act of vaping. As he stated he’d do during his hearing, Dr. Gottlieb has met with prominent researchers to design a new method of regulating e-cigarettes and vape flavors. The Nicotine Steering Committee appears to be the result of this research.
Part of the issue so far has been the lack of conclusive evidence for either side, according to Dr. McKeganey. But as peer-reviewed journals continue to find that vaping is much less dangerous than smoking, this pictures is becoming more evident. For instance, both the Federal Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health Study, and the National Health Interview Study have found that everyday vapers have a much higher likelihood of attempting to quit, and more importantly, they’re shown to be more successful as well. These same studies found that it’s chronic vapers who are consistently choosing to vape flavored juice as opposed to tobacco flavored ones. Dr. McKeganey even referenced an online survey that found vapers who start with just tobacco flavored e-liquids are quick to switch as they begin to feel more and more distanced from the act of smoking altogether. According to McKeganey, this indicates that flavors play an integral role in vaping being a very successful smoking cessation tool.
But for all of the positive results being published about vaping, there remains to be a vocal minority that sees vaping as nothing but a gateway to smoking for children. One such study out of the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice claims that young people who vape are as much as six times as likely to smoke than teens who don’t. But these results and similar ones can be misleading since a vast majority of teens who vape had previously been smoking cigarettes. A similarly misleading report from the University of Michigan found that flavored e-liquid was the most popular choice among teens. But as established, this is true for the vast majority of consistent vapers, regardless of age. Ultimately this concern still leads to a continued debate over the place of e-cigarettes in public health policy.
Dr. McKeganey believes that the answer isn’t just blindly following one side or the other. Instead, he thinks that the FDA is finally pursuing a reasonable course of action after years of choosing to play the politics. They decided to listen to both sides and work with manufacturers to reasonably regulate vaping moving forward. The Nicotine Steering Committee is the first step towards this goal of reasonable regulations. Regulations that would still allow for the full range of flavors currently available, but that also heavily penalize companies proven to be marketing toward children.
But above all else, Dr. McKeganey believes that if we allowed e-cigarettes to be marketed as smoking cessation tools that it would signal to the general public that they are indeed much safer than combustible cigarettes, and therefore are worth trying. Indeed, research shows that the overwhelming majority of current vapers already started using e-cigarettes as a means of quitting smoking. It would only take a small adjustment from the federal government to reap the benefits of many more smokers believing in, and therefore using, e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking once and for all.
Do you think that vaping should be allowed to be marketed as a smoking cessation tool? Did vaping help you finally quit smoking for good? Do you think that the FDA’s new committee will actually improve vaping rights in the US? Let us know in the comments.