The lead editor for Nicotine and Tobacco Research calls for the end academics using the term “tobacco products” to describe e-cigarettes
The vaping industry has always been at the mercy of public perception more than most vapers would like to admit. In spite of the growing amount of evidence proving how much safer vaping is than smoking, a troubling percentage of the public seems to be entirely unaware. In fact, a poll conducted by Action on Smoking and Health found that only 13% of adults surveyed believed that vaping is much safer, while over double that number felt they are just as bad, if not more dangerous. With public perception being as it is, unsurprisingly the vast majority of individuals, pro vaping or not, seem to think that vaporizers are tobacco products despite their glaring lack of any tobacco.
When it comes to the average person, it’s probably not a huge problem to refer to vaping as a tobacco product, but unfortunately, many scientific journals have also gotten into the habit. Given how misleading the term “tobacco products” is for e-cigarettes, it is questionable why this has become an extremely common description among researchers. Luckily, the editor-in-chief of Nicotine and Tobacco Research, Marcus Munafo, has taken a stand against this incorrect terminology. In a recently published Op-Ed, he blasted any researchers attempting to use the term in the wrong context and indicated his journal would no longer accept studies that used the misleading phrase. This could ultimately be a massive victory for the vaping community, so let’s take a look at precisely why.
Munafo’s Policy Change
Marcus Munafo decided to finally take a stand on an issue he feels is having a significant impact on the perception and understanding of vaporizers and their actual risks and benefits. He took to the Oxford Academic website to published his strongly worded Op-Ed that tears into what he sees as a flawed and misleading trend. According to Munafo, the bulk of the blame falls on the FDA for insisting on calling vaporizers “tobacco products” even though they are not.
But as far as Munafo is concerned, that doesn’t give academic researchers the right to also use flawed terminology. After all, in scientific contexts, being as clear as possible is not only a goal but entirely necessary to disseminate accurate information. He discusses this distinction in his Op-Ed, “Our preference is for the term ‘tobacco products’ to be reserved for those products that are made from and contain tobacco. The term ‘nicotine-containing products’ is more general, and can be applied to tobacco products but also non-tobacco products such as e-cigarettes and nicotine replacement therapies.”
In addition to that, he also acknowledges that the term “nicotine-containing product” is also flawed, due to the large amount of nicotine-free e-liquids available. But this only makes his point further, as he believes we need better descriptions when writing academic articles. Even the traditionally used term, electronic nicotine delivery system, or ENDS, is not enough to adequately describe vaporizers. Ultimately it doesn’t meet Munafo’s goal of being “clear, unambiguous, and scientifically appropriate.”
What We Already Know
One of the best ways to know a decision like this is the right move for the industry is the growing amount of research that indicates vaping is dramatically safer than smoking. Public Health England famously published a study back in 2015 that concluded vaping was at least 95% safer than smoking, while just last fall research published in the Journal of Aerosol Science found that the lifetime excess cancer risk of a vaper is 57,000 times lower than a smoker with a similar background.
This extreme harm reduction value only bolsters what we already know is an incredibly valuable smoking cessation tool. After all, vaping was originally invented as a way to help smokers quit cigarettes, and it has not disappointed on that front. It’s such a powerful tool, that research published by the University of Louisville last fall concluded, after testing all the standard smoking cessation devices, that vaping was the most likely to lead to a successful quit attempt. Vaping even beat out heavily touted prescription drugs like Chantix.
Improving the pitiful public perception of e-cigarettes has to begin with being clear about what it is. At the end of the day, e-liquids do not contain any tobacco at all, and many varieties don’t even contain any nicotine either. So while the average person could easily confuse the two activities due to their relative similarities, this is no excuse for an academic whose job is to understand and explain their given topic fully. This is why it’s such a huge win to see the editor of a major research journal to prohibit the use of misleading terminology.
If we start with researchers, we can hopefully begin to convince the general public that vaping is an extremely valuable smoking cessation and harm reduction tool. After all, nothing else has been shown to help smokers kick the habit in higher rates than vaping. But first, we must get people to buy into the fact that vaping is so much safer than smoking. If we can do this, we may actually live to see a day in which smoking is no longer the leading cause of preventable death and disease around the world.
Is it essential that we make a clear distinction between vaping and smoking? Do you believe that this policy change will have the desired effect? What do you think is the best way to improve the public perception of vaping? Let us know what you think in the comments, and don’t forget to check back here or join our Facebook and Twitter communities for more news and articles.