The well-respected NYTimes columnist Jane Brody has been around a long, long time, and we here at ACSH often use her column for its worthwhile information for our readers. Today s piece, More Worries Rise From the Ashes, is in stark contrast to those, unfortunately. And this topic presented her with a great opportunity to do her readers a major service instead, she offers irresponsible and harmful information about America s number one problem: smoking.
Her jumping-off point is a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine, which updated some assumptions about diseases linked to cigarette smoking, and proceeded to increase the estimated death rate caused by smoking. But whether 360,000 or 480,000 (the latest official CDC estimate of annual smoking-related deaths) or 500,000-plus, the number lost to cigarettes in America each year is clearly a national catastrophe, a public health emergency.
How does Ms. Brody and her American Cancer Society expert, Brian Carter, purport to deal with this issue, given the new tragic toll? First, she acknowledges that warning smokers about the new illnesses and augmented death toll will do little or nothing to convince smokers to quit:
...chances are [the new data] will do little to persuade any of the 42 million American smokers to quit. If current smokers have not already responded to the well-established links between smoking and 21 diseases that together cause 480,000 deaths each year, adding another five diseases and 60,000 deaths to this grisly total is unlikely to make a difference at least not by itself.
This is surely true. So, what might actually help to get smokers to quit? Here s their idea: They call for more doctors to aggressively address smoking cessation with their patients, and [p]erhaps even more important, our elected officials need to add muscle and money to quit-smoking programs ¦
Oh, so that's The Answer: more money for Quit-lines, NRTs, and the like? How's that been working so far?
One thing they do not want, it appears, is any of those new-fangled e-cigarette devices in the help addicted smokers quit mix: Many experts worry that the aggressive marketing of e-cigarettes, the latest gimmick to create and maintain an addiction to nicotine, could ultimately assure a healthy market for real cigarettes decades hence. No data exist to establish the long-term safety of this nicotine delivery system, nor is there convincing evidence that e-cigarettes are helping current smokers abandon tobacco.
"Adolescents could be easily enticed by many of the flavors of e-cigarettes, including chocolate, vanilla, banana, cherry and strawberry, which sounds a lot like the menu in my local frozen yogurt store.
"Many experts worry"...and "could easily be enticed." Not so easily it seems: neither she nor her cited consultants refer to any evidence of such a trend that well-known but as-yet unobserved gateway effect by which youngsters are lured into trying e-cigs, and then, addicted to its lethal nicotine, become replacement smokers for the dead and dying older generation. In fact, CDC s own data clearly show that smoking rates among teens are plummeting.
What about adult smokers? Are they quitting, thanks to the FDA-approved methods so beloved of the public health establishment and Ms. Brody? Here s what she says:
But there has been a decided slowdown in smoking cessation rates in recent years, fueling a belief that getting the remaining hard core of smokers to quit will require new strategies. For example, raising taxes on cigarettes is repeatedly proposed as an effective way to curb smoking, primarily by keeping young people from starting. Yet smoking rates are highest among the poor.
Oh, so that's the answer, higher taxes! Let us parse the logic here: adult smoking rates, which declined dramatically between 1964 and a decade ago, have stubbornly plateaued over the past five-+ years (unlike teen rates, remember). So we require new strategies, she says. Like what? Raising taxes, it seems. But this is hardly a new strategy, and to the extent it seemingly works, it is likely obviated by the illicit cigarette market provoked by such high taxes, e.g. in New York City. Also, the theory that high taxes reduce smoking is revealed as phony in her own commentary, wherein she notes that poorer smokers keep on smoking despite the high expenses.
The industry has little or nothing to do with your implied message, that they are in the forefront of making and marketing e-cigarettes to our vulnerable youth. It is rather the hundreds or thousands of small marketers that are supplying the e-cig and vapor markets, now helping millions of smokers switch to low-risk nicotine delivery products. When you say, Smoking should be treated as a form of drug addiction, you have actually, almost by chance, hit the nail on the head: Yes, let s supply the addict with the drug he or she craves, in a milieu of very-low-risk to health. E-cigarettes fill that need, and raising mythical, agenda- and corruption-driven messages that will actually lead to more cigarettes being smoked and more Americans sickened and dead is the opposite of a sound public-health message.
And on the same topic, ACSH advisor Dr. Michael B. Siegel recently penned an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal: The Misbegotten Crusade Against E-Cigarettes. In his piece, Dr. Siegel who has conducted tobacco research for 25 years counters a plethora of e-cigarette misconceptions and advocates for vaping technology, which has the potential to be one of the greatest antismoking breakthroughs. Read the story in full here.