Director of the American Heart Association’s Tobacco Research and Addiction Center goes on record that it’s unclear if the benefits of switching to vaping are “good enough”
The American Heart Association has had an interesting relationship with vaping over the years. It was only three years ago that the AHA came out in support of e-cigarettes as a potential smoking cessation tool, albeit very tentatively. They’d only support the use of vaping, “when repeated efforts with conventional treatment fails.” Now they’ve taken a step back from what was already a modest position. Dr. Aruni Bhatnagar, Director of the Tobacco Research and Addiction Center, went on the record in the Daily Mail earlier this month saying, “We just don’t know if moving to e-cigarettes is good enough to reduce the harm.’
Those who agree with the AHA in their stance argue that vaping is just too new of a product to have had thorough research done. While it’s true that you can never have too much research, the evidence is quickly mounting for the immense relative safety of vaping over smoking. In addition to their cited lack of evidence, the AHA also believes that vaping has a negative impact on youth smoking rates by normalizing smoking in society. These claims are misleading at best, and deadly at worst.
The Mounting Case for Vaping
The fact is, the overwhelming majority of peer review research done about vaping concludes that it is upwards of 95% safer than traditional smoking. Other than this general seal of harm reduction, more specific benefits have been noted by researchers. A study published in the Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy found that of the 941 subjects that had switched to vaping for at least two months, 66% percent found that their respiratory system had noticeably improved, while only 5% felt like vaping had made things worse.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health by Professors Riccardo Polosa, Jaymin Morjaria, and Pasquale Caponnetto, “Overall there were significant improvements in spirometry data, asthma control and AHR [for vapers]. These positive outcomes were noted in single and dual users. This small retrospective study indicates that regular use of e-cigs to substitute smoking is associated with objective and subjective improvements in asthma outcomes.” Mirroring those results, vaping was also shown to significantly reduce the exacerbation of COPD in vapers, including dual users. COPD vapers showed a significant improvement performing physical activities. According to Polosa, Morjaria, and Caponnetto, there was no changes recorded in the control groups.
The vaping as a gateway argument has always been more anecdotal than statistical. It sounds accurate that the more kids that have access to vaping, the more that will end up smoking tobacco, but the newest statistics just don’t follow that trend. While it is true that more teenagers are picking up vaping than six years ago, what is also glaringly obvious is that smoking rates among the same groups are dropping at speeds never quite seen before. Between 2011 and 2016 the amount of high school students who smoked dropped from 15.8% to only 8%.
The Effects of Misinformation
While it’s all well and good to operate under the notion that what you’re doing is for the safety of children and adults alike, when the evidence builds on the contrary, it’s the obligation of organizations like the AHA to own up to their mistakes. They have to do whatever they can to educate the public about the stark differences in levels of risk associated with vaping and smoking. The policies pushed by people like Dr. Bhatnagar have the, perhaps unintended, consequence of equating the dangers of smoking tobacco with the drastically lower dangers of vaping.
Dr. Michael Siegel, who is a Community Health Services Professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, believes that this sort of misleading information could prove to be extremely damaging. He worries that those who might have found vaping to be an effective smoking cessation tool may never pick it up. Siegel surmised, “After all, if it is not clear that vaping reduces harm compared to smoking, then what’s the point of vaping? You might as well enjoy the real thing.” As if that wasn’t enough of a reason to support vaping as a harm reduction device, new research from Dr William E. Stephens showed that nicotine vapor contains less than one percent of the harmful carcinogens found in tobacco smoke that lead to cancer.
Implications for the Future
If the rhetoric that says vaping is just as dangerous as smoking continues unchecked, it will only serve to stymie the potential vaping has to save millions of more lives from the terrible fate of cancer. While no one argues that vaping is 100% harmless, almost no one who has done their research believes that vaping is even close to as damaging as smoking. So until more of the general public, especially smokers, understand the numerous advantages and health benefits of vaping over smoking, we will continue to get the word out.
Check back soon for more updates on the fight to educate.