It’s hard to quit smoking. Nicotine makes it highly addictive; the hand-to-mouth motion and deep inhaling combine to form a powerful craving. But the big league damage from cigarettes is really the result of intaking tar and carbon monoxide generated by lighting them on fire and inhaling the resulting smoke, according to experts ranging from the U.S. Surgeon General to the U.K. Royal College of Physicians. That’s why when my husband and I made our final attempt to quit smoking—after previous efforts involving cold turkey, the patch, nicotine gum and (for him) prescription smoking cessation aids—we turned to vapor. It worked. We quit, and we no longer vape, either, thanks to e-cigarettes.
Unfortunately, some lawmakers in California want to make it harder for Californians to share that experience.
Their wrong-headed, regulation-happy attitudes could wind up meaning more smokers continue to smoke. And more of them suffer the terrible health consequences of doing so, including—potentially—slow, painful and expensive deaths.
Recently, California’s Senate Health Committee voted 8-0 to give a provisional thumbs-up to a proposed ban on the sale of vapor products. State lawmakers are also considering a proposal that might effectively ban e-cigarette ads.
Meanwhile, San Francisco lawmakers are explicitly aiming to chase out JUUL, a highly-popular innovator in the vaping space that is based in the city. Proposed city ordinances under consideration by the city council would ban vaping products and marketing, and “prohibit the sale, manufacture, and distribution of” e-cigarettes on city property. This could include convenience stores situated in city-owned buildings and similar properties.
These proposals, if implemented, would have the effect of stigmatizing and limiting access to vapor products. My personal experience tells me these products can be helpful in quitting smoking. They are likely less harmful than lighting a “cancer stick” on fire, and inhaling the smoke and fumes. Ultimately, 16 million Americans are living with disease or illness caused by smoking—including cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung disease, diabetes, and COPD. Approximately 480,000 of them die each year. Taxpayers often bear the burden of health care costs associated with these illnesses and death, which disproportionately impact the poor, as a result of increased taxpayer funding of health care, especially for vulnerable populations.
This bears reiterating and emphasizing, since California is a progressive state: Anti-vapor moves are extremely regressive. Smokers are generally poorer than non-smokers, and so smokers attempting to quit via vaping are also less likely to be able to bear the burden of higher costs or traveling long distances to get access to their preferred vapor products if those products cease to be sold in their state or locality or even neighborhood.
Smokers want to quit
And let’s be clear: Smokers, perhaps most especially those who have become addicted but for whom the habit is unaffordable, really do want to quit, too, using whatever tools they can. The simple fact is that, just like me, too many of them find available smoking cessation aids that can legally be marketed as such to be totally ineffective and inadequate— and going cold turkey is incredibly hard and most of us fail, repeatedly.
As of 2015, nearly 70 percent of adult cigarette smokers wanted to stop smoking, and 55 percent had tried to quit in the last year. Those are big numbers, and I believe from my experience that vaping can be a smoking cessation tool, even if JUUL and other manufacturers cannot bill it as such.
I will disclose here, as I do below, that I work for Vapers United, which advocates on behalf of vaping and smaller vapor retailers. I also truly believe that vaping is less harmful than smoking. I saw an immediate improvement in my own health soon after switching to vapor.
Science: E-smoking less toxic than cigarettes
But set aside my personal experience. Public Health England (PHE) declared the use of e-cigarettes to be “around 95% safer than smoking” in 2015. The U.K.’s Royal College of Physicians likewise found that electronic cigarette use is “unlikely to exceed 5% of the harm from smoking tobacco,” and that “e-cigarettes appear to be effective when used by smokers as an aid to quitting smoking.” British physicians even went so far as to conclude that “in the interests of public health it is important to promote the use of e-cigarettes” along with other non-tobacco nicotine products “as possible as a substitute for smoking.”
California lawmakers need to look at the science surrounding vapor— including from the U.K.. They must listen to the personal experiences of former smokers who quit via vaping, like me. The consequences could literally be a matter of life and death for many Californians.
It’s time for lawmakers to get real, about vapor and not pass bad bills just for the sake of appearing to “do something”— especially when there is ample evidence that doing so will benefit Big Tobacco itself and Big Pharma, too.
Californian smokers, their families and friends are counting on legislators to get this right, and not make life (and death) worse, harder and pricier for those among us already most on the margins.
Liz Mair is the Strategist for Vapers United, a 501(c)(4) organization that advocates on behalf of individual vapers, their friends and families, and smaller vapor retailers. In her capacity as President of Mair Strategies LLC, a boutique strategic communications firm, she has worked on vapor and tobacco taxation and regulatory issues for approximately eight years.
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