Team of researchers analyzed the same statistics referenced in former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s December 2016 report.
In December 2016, United States Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, released a report that painted e-cigarettes as a major health concern as opposed to a proven harm reduction tool. He argued that vaping is not 100% harmless, and should therefore be regulated and restricted like the cigarettes they imitate. Connecting the effects of nicotine present in some e-liquids with the nicotine found alongside the countless chemicals and carcinogens found in cigarette smoke.
While Dr. Murthy did call for more research on the effects of vaping in different contexts, it doesn’t appear he has seen any of the research that’s already done on the topic. The data he referenced in his 2016 report was actually based on effects of nicotine when ingested alongside cigarette smoke, not in vapor or even alone. The co-opting of bad science by a high influence public health official like the Surgeon General is never good for American health. In order to better understand the claims of Dr. Murthy, a team of researchers headed by Riccardo Polosa reanalyzed the “key data sources” on the toxicity of nicotine cited in the Surgeon General’s report.
The team of health experts, who reportedly received no funding for their work, published their findings in Bio Med Central’s Harm Reduction Journal. They found the best evidence did not support the former Surgeon General’s claim that e-cigarettes present a significant danger to the youth. Instead, finding the numbers show the vast majority of youth vapers were already smokers in some form. Even the ones who do vape only tend to do it on an “infrequent or experimental” basis. Researchers also noted that the US youth smoking rates have plummeted alongside the rise of e-cigarettes. In direct opposition of the theory that vaping could serve as a “gateway” to smoking.
Perhaps most importantly they claim the negative effects of nicotine cited by Dr. Murthy, used data collected using nicotine combined with the much more deadly ingredients of cigarette smoke. In this way, it is almost irrelevant in addressing the effects on the body of nicotine vapor. They even claim that Dr. Murthy “exaggerates the toxicity of propylene glycol (PG) and vegetable glycerin (VG) by focusing on experimental conditions that do not reflect use in the real-world.” The reanalysis team does concede that in a perfect world without cigarettes, e-cigarettes would present health concerns for the public without having any benefits. But in light of the continued existence of cigarettes, vaping provides both a much safer alternative, as well as a proven way to help people quit long term.
Cost Of Misinformation
The findings of the re-analysis are consistent with what most peer reviewed research is currently telling us about e-cigarettes. Most important of these findings is that they are at least 95% safer than traditional cigarettes. They’ve also been proven to be more effective at replacing combustible cigarettes the more often they are used. Meaning only those who truly understand the benefits and commit to the lifestyle change are likely to gain any real distance from smoking.
The problem with this being, the less that people understand about the harm reduction value of e-cigarettes, the less likely they may be to try them, let alone give them the proper opportunity to effectively work. The public perception of vaping is already very misinformed, with one poll citing that only around 7% of people surveyed correctly thought that vaping was less dangerous than smoking. This public perception problem is one that could ultimately cost millions of lives across the US and indeed the world. It’s high time that our legislators and public health officials got on board with the idea that, while not harmless, e-cigarettes present us with the best chance to begin phasing out combustible cigarettes one day.
Newly appointed Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, is poised to take on the opioid epidemic in the US as his main concern. So for now we can only hope that he will show a more open mind when it comes to the proven harm reduction value of vaping. Hopefully he will learn from the mistakes of his predecessor and work toward legislation that incorporates e-cigarettes more closely into the smoking cessation programs already supported by the United States.
What do you think about the former Surgeon General’s comments? Do you think the new Surgeon General will correct the course? What do you think would be the best way to weigh the proven benefits with the potential risks? Let us know what you think in the comments.