Sixteen years after the first e-cigarette was invented, media outlets across the world have been quick to link the devices to what is apparently their first potential “death”. The case has fuelled concerns about the potential harms of vaping, a proven harm reduction tool for smokers who struggle to quit their habit, despite no identified cause and much of its surrounding circumstances unknown.
The unidentified man form Illinois was hospitalised with lung troubles and died this year. He is the only fatality out of 193 cases of respiratory illness cited by the US Centre for Disease Control between June 28 and August 23 this year among the millions of Americans who “vape”.
Anti-vaping lobbyists and members of Australia’s public health orthodoxy have been quick to cite the death to defend Australia’s current ban on smokers legally accessing nicotine vapes, the only such ban in the Western developed world. However, an understanding of the surrounding circumstances and what we do know about vaping is essential before any lessons can be drawn. No reliable scientific authority ever claimed that vaping is completely safe. It’s impossible to understand every possible risk of any innovative product without decades of experience and, after all, any device that delivers heated vapours to the lungs can cause irritation and inflammation.
Nicotine, widely used by former smokers who transition to vaping, is also an addictive stimulant.
That is why public health experts and bodies like the UK Royal College of Physicians and the US Food and Drug Administration recognise that those that are susceptible to particular lung conditions, minors and adults who did not previously smoke or vape should be deterred from vaping.
Those bodies have instead recognised that vaping’s value lies in its potential to reduce tobacco related harm. Tobacco smoking kills millions of people around the world every year and is considered 20 times more harmful than vaping nicotine, according to agencies like Public Health England which has reviewed years of evidence. That is why doctors in the UK are actively encouraged by their government to recommend vaping as an alternative to patients that smoke.
The primary harms of smoking arise from burning tobacco, a process which exposes tobacco smokers to tar and carcinogens. Vaporising nicotine solutions allows smokers to satiate their cravings without burning tobacco.
A single potential death in the US cannot justify the prohibition of an alternative to a legal practice that causes premature deaths of 19,000 Australians each year. Australia has long been considered a leader is smoking cessation and is home to some of the world’s highest tobacco taxes. Yet in the years since 2013 our quit rate has stagnated. Over the same period, vaping experienced a rapid uptake worldwide and has coincided with a significant fall of smoking rates in other countries including the UK and US neither of which outlaws vaping nicotine. That despite those nations levying lower tobacco excise than here. Vaping is even considered more effective quit aid than nicotine patches and gums.
As for the cases of respiratory illness, the US CDC notes that “no specific product has been identified in all cases nor has any product been specifically concussively linked to the illness”. The history of illness, lifestyle or even the vaping device used by the one man that died, and whether it was a legal device remains unknown.
Many US respiratory illness cases involve the abuse of illegal unregulated products loaded with THC; the psychoactive ingredient of cannabis. The vast majority of vapers using nicotine are former smokers who use it to quit or limit smoking and not get stoned.
If anything, those cases support the legalisation and regulation of vapes and nicotine solutions to uphold safety, quality and the monitoring og future consumer practices and their impact.
Australian vape with nicotine contravening laws which are rarely enforced and simply prevent smokers from obtaining nicotine solutions from their local store as easily as they can obtain cigarettes.
Vapers instead order solutions from countries like New Zealand, and depriving the government of tax revenue and stunting an innovative vape industry.
Whilst products from New Zealand must meet general safety requirements, not all countries enforce the same standards.
Potentially deadly solutions of 99% pure nicotine can be ordered from China and illegal products without child restraint packaging have been linked to accidental poisoning.
We may not know every risk of vaping for a few decades. But this is no excuse for an anti-innovation, prohibitionist approach that risks smokers’ lives and is fuelled more by moral panic than by proven public health concerns.
By Satya Marar
Director of Policy Australian Tax Payers Alliance and Legalise Vaping Australia.
An excellent article which we reproduce here in its entirety for all that may have missed it.