Editor’s note: This commentary is by Gaetano Putignano, of Bellows Falls, who owns and operates 802 E-Cig Supply.
I smoked my last combustible tobacco cigarette on Aug. 21, 2013. Using an e-cigarette was the only method that ever worked to help me quit tobacco, after trying every other FDA-approved product available. I currently vape fruit-flavored e-liquid that contains no nicotine. I firmly believe that using an electronic cigarette with a choice of flavors saved my life.
I testified again this year at the Statehouse on Feb. 3 in opposition of H.171 and brought up three studies specific to the scientific evidence showing that secondhand vapor does not harm bystanders. As Vermont legislators consider how to regulate e-cigarettes, it is important to understand the critical role vapor products play in tobacco harm reduction.
Before considering H.171, which would prohibit the use of e-cigarettes where combustible tobacco products can’t be used, and H.59, which would ban the sale of the flavored e-liquid, or any tax on these products, it is essential that legislators understand how these products are being used, and their real-world impact on public health.
In the most comprehensive governmental review of e-cigarettes anywhere in the world, Public Health England concluded that e-cigarettes are “around 95% less harmful” than tobacco cigarettes, and that they are helping people quit smoking.
If Vermont treats smoke-free e-cigarettes with the same restrictive laws used for combustible tobacco cigarettes, fewer people will be inclined to quit smoking by switching to e-cigarettes. Not only would e-cigarettes lose their advantage in terms of being more convenient alternatives, the implicit (and incorrect) message would be that they are also equally dangerous, not only to the user, but to those exposed to the vapor.
If the degree of enthusiasm former smokers have for e-cigarettes is any barometer, they are a much more popular way to help people quit smoking than forcing them to stand out in the cold.
Ostensibly, the purpose of anti-smoking laws such as Vermont’s Clean Air Act has been first to reduce exposure to environmental cigarette smoke and second, to reduce the number of places people can smoke, with the hope that it would cause people to quit.
Reflexively including e-cigarettes in the Clean Air Act undermines both of these goals. It will not reduce exposure to secondhand smoke, because there is no smoke. In fact, people will continue to smoke cigarettes, often bunched up on the sidewalk near a bar, exposing passers-by to smoke. And if the degree of enthusiasm former smokers have for e-cigarettes is any barometer, they are a much more popular way to help people quit smoking than forcing them to stand out in the cold.
The U.S. FDA’s chief tobacco regulator, Mitch Zeller, understands the need to carefully thread the regulatory needle when it comes to e-cigarettes. He told the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s New Public Health, “The other example is if at the end of the day people are smoking for the nicotine, but dying from the tar, then there’s an opportunity for FDA to come up with what I’ve been calling a comprehensive nicotine regulatory policy that is agency-wide and that is keyed to something that we call the continuum of risk: that there are different nicotine containing and nicotine delivering products that pose different levels of risk to the individual.”
As Vermont legislators consider e-cigarettes, it is important to remember the law that is frequently forgotten: the law of unintended consequences. As any vaping former smoker will tell you, a vote to treat e-cigarettes like cigarettes, is a vote for smoking.