“Today’s final rule pulls the rug out from the nine million smokers who have switched to vaping, putting them in jeopardy of returning back to smoking, which kills 480,000 Americans each year and costs the US more than $300 billion in annual health care expenses,” – SFATA president Cynthia Cabrera
The great thing about this country is that each state is its own institution. The state has its own set of laws, as long as these do not contradict federal regulations. And in the case of vaping, each state has its own opinion about it. New York is adamant that vapers are not smokers, hence, they cannot be charged for violating anti-smoking laws.
This is a real problem in New York and the rest of the country—federal government is trying to make regulations that treat e-cigarettes the same way as regular cigarettes. But New York, one of the more influential states in the country, is saying that the two are different. This is in line with what a lot of experts are saying: vaping isn’t smoking. In fact, vaping doesn’t possess the ill effects present in cigarettes through the tobacco and nicotine.
The recent New York ruling was rooted on the case filed against Shawn Thomas. He was arrested for vaping on a subway platform. Thomas was charged with a federal case for smoking. But the judge ruled that smoking provisions do not apply in vaping.
There are various issues that affect vaping and the vape industry. Here are some of the points raised by the vape manufacturers, sellers and users:
Can you please give us an overview of the current regulation and policies covering vapes in the US which you think is most significant to the state of New York?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has regulated the selling of vape pens and e-cigarettes. Just like regular cigarettes, only those 18 years old and over can buy these products. There’s a growing fear that vape pens and e-cigarettes are prodding the young ones to smoke. This is based on data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wherein 4.7 million middle and high school students were found to have been vaping. This is an increase of about 16 percent from the year before. It certainly caused the government to balk on the widespread vaping.
Regulating the sale of vape pens and e-cigarettes is well and good. The government should look after the well-being and future of the children. But the implication here is the government’s treatment of e-cigarettes, generally looking at them as just a tobacco product. New York, though, is one of the states that are trying to make a clear stand that the two products—e-cigarettes and cigarettes—are totally different.
How important are reduced harm alternatives to public health especially to tobacco smokers?
Everybody knows that cigarettes are bad for the health. There is no shortage of information saying that cigarettes can cause lung cancer. But it is a form of therapy for some people. Smoking helps a lot of people think, relax and socialize, even. This will sound like a sorry excuse for the non-smokers but it is true, otherwise, there will be no smokers after the highly publicized ill effects of cigarettes. According to a survey from the CDC, 17 percent of Americans are smokers. Some of them are bound to die because of effects from smoking. CDC also reported that one in five deaths is due in part to smoking. That’s about 480,000 every year. Among the diseases caused by smoking are lung cancer, heart diseases and stroke.
One of the more effective ways to prevent more deaths due to smoking is by introducing reduced-harm alternatives to these smokers. A habit is a habit—it cannot be easily stopped. So we might as well just steer these smokers to another direction: vaping. A number of researches have indicated that vaping is about 95 percent less harmful that smoking.
How do you think should the government and health agencies view the emergence of e-cigs?
The government is obviously looking at e-cigarette as just another form of tobacco product. This is the exact tenor the government used when it said that all electronic smoking devices to be considered as “tobacco products.” The implications are serious because electronic smoking products are leagues away from cigarettes. The main difference is on the function. Smoking implies the burning of tobacco, while vaping is heating the flavored liquid thereby producing vapor.
In 2009, the FDA banned e-cigarettes because it claimed that a small-scale test found the products laden with carcinogens and other toxins. This was overturned because manufacturers complained there was no real evidence to back the claim. The court ruled in favor against the ban.
The government should look at vaping as a healthier alternative to smoking. Instead of curtailing its proliferation, the government should encourage it. We could save a lot of lives by encouraging them to vape, rather than smoke.
What are the major obstacles you’ve faced in your advocacy as part of SFATA New York, as a business owner and as a consumer?
As a consumer, the major obstacle for vaping is the limited area. Because vaping is not smoking, vapers should be allowed to vape in a lot of public places, even in indoor places. New York was actually one of the first states to ban smoking in restaurants. A lot of the states followed suit. Another obstacle is the added tax. But this is understandable since electronic e-cigarette is not really a necessity. It can be considered a luxury.
As far as manufacturers are concerned, the proposal to impose additional tax on vaping products would gravely affect the business. Either the business will move to another state with a better deal or pass on the tax to its customers. Either way, the result is bad.
Vaping has been around for some years, but many people are yet to understand what it’s about. What do you think is the biggest myth about vaping?
The biggest misunderstanding about vaping is that it just it is just like smoking. The process itself—one involves burning while the other is about heating liquid—is way different. But people, mostly non-smokers think of them as the same. People should also smell it because the vapor from the electronic smoking product smells so good. The problem with interchanging the two activities is that one is dangerous. According to a study conducted by the team of Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos from Athens, Greece, smoking cigarettes causes the elevation of blood pressure, specifically impairing the diastolic function. In the case of vaping, there was no difference in the diastolic function.
Many studies are coming out on the hazards of vaping to the body, among other health concerns. What is your take on these scientific studies?
The most common studies on vaping indicate that it is 95 percent less dangerous than smoking. In fact, the Royal College of Physicians endorsed vaping as a harm-reduction substance. There are about nine million people who have switched from smoking to vaping. This is a significant number. So when these so-called scientific studies negate the physicians’ endorsement, then becomes basis for a new FDA ruling, there is a danger that these millions of vapers will go back to being smokers. We are essentially putting their health at risk again.
What is your general advice on the use of e-cigs by teens and younger people?
Smoking and vaping, as much as possible, should be discouraged. So there is no problem with the FDA ruling that only those 18 years old and above can purchase e-cigarettes. But once they start vaping, they should be given all the information available about the effects of nicotine.
What is your message to the organizations/institutions that support vaping?
Vaping organizations and manufacturers should continue the fight. And in order to be successful, they should be united in their aim to provide smokers a safer alternative. There are thousands of vaping businesses in the country. Competition is important and these establishments should engage in a healthy competition for better products and more organized activities. But when it comes to federal curtailment, every business should come together, be united against those against vaping.
What is your message to the organizations/institutions that oppose vaping?
When there are people concerned about giving the public a safer alternative to smoking, they should be supported, not opposed. Give up the opposition because vaping organizations will fight all the way to the end. Also, if you oppose vaping, make sure there is a valid reason.