By Gregory Conley.
There is no question that electronic cigarettes have become a major disruptive force in the tobacco industry. Every quarter brings new reports that big tobacco companies have experienced larger-than-expected declines in cigarette sales. The CDC reported that in 2012 the U.S. smoking rate experienced a statistically significant fall for the first time in seven years.
E-cigarettes have already replaced millions of tobacco cigarettes and are poised to replace billions more. Nonetheless, self-described anti-smoking groups have spent increasing amounts of effort campaigning to keep smokers from using e-cigarettes. In 2009, groups like the American Lung Association (ALA), American Cancer Society (ACS) and Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids endorsed the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) ban on e-cigarette imports. State-level ALA and ACS organizations similarly supported bills introduced in state legislatures that would have banned e-cigarette sales to adults while leaving traditional cigarettes widely available.
Following the defeat of the FDA ban in federal court and the failure to pass even one state level bill to ban e-cigarette sales, tobacco control organizations have begun to adapt their tactics. The prohibitionist zeal that drove their attempts to ban e-cigarettes has only increased. These groups are now attempting to make e-cigarettes less appealing and available to adults by:
• Banning e-cigarette usage in all indoor and outdoor areas where smoking is banned, including apartments;
• Taxing e-cigarettes the same as cigarettes or other tobacco products, which would make them more expensive than cigarettes in many places; and
• Enacting regulations that prevent e-cigarette retail stores from opening. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has already proposed an ordinance that would enact a ban on flavored e-cigarettes.
Fortunately for consumers and retailers, advocates for tobacco harm reduction have not stood by idly. In October 2009, a group of individuals who quit smoking by switching to e-cigarettes formed the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA). In the four years since, CASAA and its 6,000 members have been on the front lines of nearly every legislative debate regarding vaping and smokeless tobacco. Thanks to CASAA and its members, bills that would have taxed e-cigarettes have been defeated in seven states.
While harm reduction advocates have won most such battles, junk science about e-cigarettes has continually proved to be a formidable foe. Hundreds of tests have been performed on e-cigarette liquid and vapor, but the quality of both the science and the presentation of the science has varied. As a result, scientific studies that have actually shown quite positive results for e-cigarettes have been spun into negatives.
In February, CASAA announced that was it starting a research fund to support scientific studies of tobacco harm reduction products and policies. Within four days, members had already donated $15,000.
The results of the first research fund project were recently released by Professor Igor Burstyn of the Drexel University School of Public Health. Dr. Burstyn was given a grant to review the over 9,000 observations about the chemistry of the vapor and liquid in e-cigarettes and determine the potential risk that they pose to users and bystanders. He concluded that e-cigarette users are exposed to levels of chemicals far below those that would create any health concern. Furthermore, Dr. Burstyn concluded that there was no risk to bystanders from e-cigarette vapor.
CASAA recently conducted its own survey of 5,000 e-cigarette users, and preliminary results were presented to the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products in August. While there is much more to learn about e-cigarettes, one thing is clear: they have created a win-win-win for consumers, public health, and the retail tobacco sector.
Gregory Conley is an attorney in New Jersey and the volunteer legislative director for the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA). He holds a JD/MBA from Rutgers University. Follow him on Twitter @GregTHR.