Each year, more than 7 million people worldwide lose their lives to toxic forms of tobacco. In New York State alone, approximately 750,000 are living with smoking-related cancer, heart or lung disease.
Obviously then, reducing use of toxic forms of tobacco would save lives and substantially improve public health. For most, that means quitting smoking. And there are nicotine products that can be considered “harm reduction” alternatives – the most controversial being nicotine vapes, or “e-cigarettes.”
Unfortunately, misinformation on the health impacts of vaping is pervasive. More than 82% of U.S. smokers now believe, incorrectly, that these gizmos are as harmful as, or more harmful than, cigarettes.
Of course, vaping may carry health risks. It still contains nicotine, which is dependence-forming. And we can’t be entirely sure about the long-term effects because these products only entered markets about 15 years ago. But we do know that it’s much safer than combustible tobacco, the lethality of which is confirmed by decades of unimpeachable evidence.
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In fact, a report by Public Health England found that vaping is a staggering 95% less harmful than smoking cigarettes.
Promisingly, U.S. scientists are beginning to repudiate our government’s hostility toward e-cigarettes. A recent article in the American Journal of Public Health argues for a balanced approach to vaping, recognizing its potential to help people quit smoking and attenuate the public health impact of cigarettes.
Public health experts are also refuting the false notion that vaping has created an epidemic of nicotine addiction among young people. Research demonstrates that it’s extremely unlikely for a teenager who has never smoked to start vaping.
And youth vaping rates have plummeted over the last few years. From 2019 to 2023, the share of high schoolers vaping dropped 63%. In New York, youth vaping declined by 18% in 2020.
Some contend that curbing the sale of flavored e-cigarettes made vaping less attractive for teenagers. But flavored vaping products are widely used by adults. Prohibiting flavored vapes means prohibiting nearly 80% of the products hundreds of thousands of New York smokers are using to avoid deadly cigarettes.
Cigarettes remain the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States. But since the 1960s, we’ve made real progress in reducing smoking rates. It’s imperative we use every tool at our disposal – including flavored e-cigarettes – to help people break this lethal habit.
Charles Gardner received his doctorate in developmental biology from the University of Michigan in 1991. He has served in senior positions in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including health attaché at the U.S. Embassy New Delhi and senior representative of DHHS to South Asia. Gardner has also served as a senior adviser to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, as an association director for Health Equity in the Rockefeller Foundation, and director of child health in the Optimus Foundation.
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