A reduction of the addictive chemical may lead to increased use.
The tobacco smoking epidemic has reached an all-time high, with a projected 1.1 billion smokers worldwide. There are 38.2 million smokers in the United States alone, with 16 million of those currently suffering from some sort of tobacco-related disease.
The United States Food and Drug Administration showcased a comprehensive plan for tobacco and nicotine control through new regulations, including a proposal to limit the amount of nicotine in cigarettes to help potentially curb addiction. Very-Low Nicotine Content cigarettes (VLNCs) contain nicotine at levels that do not produce any physiological side effects, delivering the same combustible byproducts without any of the intended effect or perceived benefit.
Anti-vaping activists have praised the proposal as a novel way to potentially reduce or prevent addiction. Health experts warn that reducing the addictive agent in cigarettes would only lead to current smokers, smoking more to achieve similar effects. This would unfortunately increase their exposure to carcinogens.
This proposal comes at a time where established nicotine replacement therapies already exist on the market. Vaping has already been repeatedly proven as an effective smoking cessation device and reduced-harm alternative to traditional tobacco smoking.
Case Against VLNCs
If a smoker were to switch to vaping using a low-nicotine juice, they might need to inhale fairly deep and vape regularly in order to achieve the effects they’re used to from smoking. A similar situation may occur if a regular smoker that did not intend on quitting was forced to switch to a very low nicotine content cigarette.
Dr. Carrie Wade, harm reduction policy manager at the R Street Institute, noted that data shows smokers who used VLNCs smoked less and reported fewer cravings, showing great potential as an option for smoking cessation. She also noted there isn’t enough data available regarding the use of VLNCs on smokers who do not want to quit.
This means that while VLNCs may be a great tool for smoking cessation and to help prevent adolescent addiction, they may pose a risk to those who end up smoking more cigarettes to get the same levels of nicotine. “Reducing the nicotine content fundamentally changes cigarettes to literal ‘cancer sticks’” she notes.
There are currently efforts by legislators around the globe that are attempting to limit the amount of nicotine in cigarettes, but public health experts urge that more research needs to be done before taking such dramatic action. “Before those in both the tobacco control and tobacco harm reduction communities advocate for such a drastic shift in the tobacco landscape, it is imperative that we first consider the ethics of VLNCs.” Wade concluded.
Vaping Over Smoking
Very Low Nicotine Content cigarettes seem like an odd proposal when there are so many proven nicotine replacement therapies already on the market. Researchers from the University of Louisville found vaping to be the most effective smoking cessation tool available, even more effective than prescription options such as Chantix.
Vaping has not only proven itself to be an effective alternative to smoking, but a safer one as well. In separate studies conducted by Public Health England and the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, researchers found vaping to be 95% safer and 93% safer than smoking, respectively.
Alongside this, research published in the Journal of Aerosol Sciences found vapers have a 57,000 times lower risk of developing cancer in their lifetime compared to smokers. The study also concluded that particles produced by vapor were less harmful than the particles produced by tobacco combustion.
In addition, a study published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research found that vapor particles dissipate almost immediately. This study also notes that vapor does not generate side-stream emissions, unlike conventional tobacco.
There are several potential public health benefits behind Very Low Nicotine Content cigarettes, such as reduced cravings for those looking to quit and preventing people from becoming addicted in the first place. However, there is not enough research currently available on the impact on forcing smokers not looking to quit into using lower nicotine cigarettes.
More research needs to be done on VLNCs before enacting legislation enforcing their requirement as the new standard for cigarettes. Their sale shouldn’t be enforced through regulation but rather be offered as a smoking cessation option for those looking to quit.
Forcing Very Low Nicotine Content cigarettes as the new standard may cause current smokers to increase their volume of tobacco consumption in order to consume a similar amount of nicotine and achieve the same desired effects. This only increases this already vulnerable groups exposed to the carcinogenic byproducts of tobacco combustion.
Tobacco control and anti-vaping activists should take an objective stance on the long-term impact of VLNCs and whether forcing them as the new standard is the best option in the fight against the smoking epidemic and tobacco addiction. Placing at-risk groups further at-risk is counter-intuitive and directly contradicts their public health stances.
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