Despite mounting evidence in support of electronic cigarettes as both quitting aids and reduced risk tobacco products, most health and research organizations are quite hesitant about saying as much. Many research announcements are accompanied by statements that if individuals are hoping to quit, they should use approved and accepted cessation aids (gum, patches, and such).
This strikes a chord with many electronic cigarette advocates and fans. A lot of them perceive these statements as proof that the organizations behind them are in cahoots with big tobacco or major pharmaceutics companies–working together to fight threats to their bottom line. At a minimum, nearly all organizations involved in researching electronic cigarettes are connected to tobacco or pharma in one way or another–and they aren’t always the best at making transparent declarations about it. This might not mean that they’re acting explicitly against electronic cigarettes driven by conflicts of interest and closed door meetings.
One example of such is a study from the European Respiratory Society that found electronic cigarettes do impact lung health. The study found that in users with healthy lung function, airway resistance was increased following use of an electronic cigarette. Our understanding of the results leads us to believe that the impact is minuscule and probably has very little affect on long-term long function. Emails to the organizations asking for clarification were not answered. The announcement of the study’s results also left out any comparison to the impact conventional cigarettes have on lungs, perhaps conspicuously so. Their numbers–although showing a difference–have no clear meaning to individuals that are not deeply acquainted with the workings of airway resistance (we certainly aren’t, and we really tried).
A statement from Professor Christina Gratziou, Chair of the ERS Tobacco Control Committee, included the following: “The ERS recommends following effective smoking cessation treatment guidelines based on clinical evidence which do not advocate the use of such products.” This is not an uncommon statement accompanying electronic cigarette studies.
Evidence continues to point toward electronic cigarettes being highly successful quitting aids. Preliminary studies suggest that within 6 months of using e-cigs, half cut their smoking by 50% and roughly a quarter quit smoking entirely. This far and away dwarfs the success rates of the accepted cessation methods which rarely work more than 12% of the time. Take out the 9% of the time that quitting cold turkey works, and these methods improve your chances of quitting by only 3 percentage points. So it looks questionable when organizations go out of their way to ignore the promise of electronic cigarettes. Gratziou’s failure to disclose some more potent conflicts of interest also calls her statements into question.
An author of a study from the Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies at the American Legacy Foundation made a statement similar to the one above. David Abrams, Executive Director of the Schroeder Institute at Legacy suggests, “…smokers who want to quit should, instead [of electronic cigarettes], pursue research-proven effective cessation tools…” But then, he also has plenty of conflicts of interest as well.
The reason for these statements may be a little less deviant than some would like to think. In our incredibly litigious time, it might be as simple as making sure they cover their asses. Organizations that support electronic cigarettes could be in trouble if bad news hits the industry in the future. You said e-cigs were okay, now I’m using them and such and such is wrong with me could be the argument. Even in the articles on this website, we have to be careful about how we portray the opportunity electronic cigarettes offer smokers. Even we’re afraid to take on too much responsibility in the advocacy of the products on which our livelihood depends.
Research groups might not be on the hook financially if they pre-maturely supported the use of electronic cigarettes–that would probably be the extreme. Still, no one wants to look bad if things turn sour for e-cigs. Statements like the ones above are an easy way to shift the onus onto other groups and avoid answering any tough questions.
The research and science community at large is not one to accept declarations without a great deal of evidence and then some. So it could also simply come down to do we look bad in front of others in our field or piss off some nicotine-addicted consumers that buy products we don’t sell?
Could some organizations still be acting on bad faith and fighting to keep the promise of electronic cigarettes from getting to the people? Well, yes. But these messages that reek of non-committal ass-covering probably aren’t it. The best thing a research organization could do to slow down electronic cigarettes is probably avoid researching them and avoid talking about them.
The research and science will eventually hit a tipping point at which statements about the effectiveness of electronic cigarettes can be made without reservation or extensive caveats. But by then, hopefully, e-cigs will have already struck with the market at large by word of mouth, testimonials, out-spoken media, and basic human judgement.
This writer expects to see a lot of out-spoken media in the next year. Journalists still make great advocates for change. That, and there’s still a lot of journalists out there that smoke.