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The New York Times —Still Denying Vaping’s Benefits?

Never comfortable when today’s neo-Puritan orthodoxies come under fire, the New York Times editorializes on an inconvenient report by Public Health England (“an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health” and no bastion of libertarian thinking).

The full report is available here, but these two sentences give its flavor:

Many people think the risks of e-cigarettes are the same as smoking tobacco and this report clarifies the truth of this. In a nutshell, best estimates show e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful to your health than normal cigarettes, and when supported by a smoking cessation service, help most smokers to quit tobacco altogether.

Clutching her pearls, The Gray Lady reassures its readers that “the study is hardly definitive; experts in America have drawn different conclusions on usage and on the gateway issue.”

Always looking out for nanny, the newspaper cautions that “the best results are obtained when e-cigarettes are used in combination with professional counseling and smoking-cessation medication.”

Ah yes, “professional counseling’’.  Doubtless that’s true, but the best should not be allowed to get in the way of better.

The PHE report also noted that:

There has been an overall shift towards the inaccurate perception of EC being as harmful as cigarettes over the last year in contrast to the current expert estimate that using EC is around 95% safer than smoking.

So disinformation about e-cigarettes is actually pointing potential or actual smokers away from a far safer alternative. Nice work, nannies!

Oh yes, there was this too (my emphasis added):

Four studies examined nicotine exposure from passive vaping. Long et al., 2014 measured nicotine content of EC exhalations. EC exhalations contained eight times nicotine than cigarette exhalations. Estimating environmental nicotine exposure, however, has to take into account the fact that side-stream smoke (ie the smoke from the lighted end of the cigarette, which is produced regardless of whether the smoker is puffing or not) accounts for some 85% of passive smoking and there is no side-stream EC vapour. A study measuring nicotine residue on surfaces in houses of smokers and vapers reported only negligible levels from vaping, 169 times lower than from smoking…. Partners of vapers had mean cotinine concentrations of 0.19 ng/ml in saliva and 1.75 ng/ml in urine, which is about 1,000 times less than the concentrations seen in smokers and similar to levels generated by eating a tomato.

And yet American cities continue to ban the use of e-cigarettes indoors.

And on any gateway effect (again, my emphasis added):  

There is no evidence that EC are undermining the long-term decline in cigarette smoking among adults and youth, and may in fact be contributing to it.

Pushing back, the New York Times points to a study tracking Los Angeles high schoolers, which “said ninth graders who had tried e-cigarettes were far more likely than other students to start smoking “combustible tobacco” (cigarettes, cigars, hookahs) within a year.”

Turn to the abstract of that LA report and you’ll find a reference to high school students doing just that, together with a qualification that the New York Times oddly chose to omit:

Further research is needed to understand whether this association may be causal.

Oh.

That said, I can believe that a youngster tempted by e-cigarettes might be more likely to go on to tobacco smoking than one who wasn’t even interested in vaping. There’s no surprise there, and it would almost always, I suspect, be a matter of correlation, not causation. What matters more is how many would-be smokers decide not to take up the habit because e-cigarettes are enough for them.  With cigarette smoking among teens in the US down 42 percent since 2011, the best guess is quite a few….

But this is a gift horse that the editorialists of the Times, set on signaling their purity, want put to death:

Strong regulation is needed in Europe and the United States to protect young people from advertising and promotions designed to lure them into trying e-cigarettes and perhaps getting hooked on them. America’s Food and Drug Administration needs to issue rules it proposed last year and make them even stronger by banning flavors that appeal to youngsters.

Ah yes, “hooked”. The emotional language makes clear that this is an area where science must take a backseat, and the perfect must be the enemy of the good. And if that means there will be more teen smokers than there need be, well, too bad….

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