Anti-vaping activists have put themselves in an awkward position. They want to demonize e-cigarettes because, they allege, nicotine poses a risk to teenagers. But they also want teenagers to use nicotine gums and patches to quit smoking. What sense does that make? None.
On July 22, Fox News ran a confused listicle by Angelica Stabile titled How to quit vaping as the e-cigarette fad fires up: 6 smart steps to take. There was nothing especially concerning about the thesis of the story. E-cigarettes primarily serve as quit-smoking tools. If someone no longer needs them for that purpose and wants to stop vaping, more power to them.
The problem is that Stabile didn't frame her story this way. Instead, she downplayed the positive public health impact of e-cigarettes, amplified the teen vaping “epidemic” myth, and spoke only to experts who reinforced this narrative.
There's no need to refute the article line by line, but there were two particularly ridiculous comments worth scrutinizing, because they lead to some odd places if followed to their logical conclusions.
Vaping “on the rise”
Early on in the story, Stabile quoted a psychiatrist who told her that vaping is growing in popularity. “Vaping is the trendy new hobby that has turned into a concerning habit,” she wrote, the obvious implication being that e-cigarettes must pose some serious health risk. But just a paragraph later she provided a helpful clue as to why e-cigarettes have elicited such a favorable response:
The number of people smoking tobacco products has drastically decreased — yet vaping is on the rise ...
Stabile used this observation to launch into an analysis of teen vaping, which, as we've reported many times, is declining and never reached anything close to “epidemic” proportions in the first place. Moreover, most of the teenagers who have taken up vaping were already smokers. The vaping-to-smoking gateway narrative is bad fiction; there is no sound evidence behind it.
The only other plausible explanation for the increase in vaping is that adult smokers are abandoning combustible tobacco in droves, and the data bear out this conclusion. Smokers are twice as likely to quit with the help of an e-cigarette than with other nicotine-replacement products, the UK's National Health Service notes. Smokers who try vaping may even quit when they have no intention to give up cigarettes, research has shown.
If you prefer personal testimonials to statistics, here's a list of roughly 14,000 ex-smokers who, like me, quit cigarettes thanks to vaping. There is also some preliminary evidence to suggest that switching to e-cigarettes encourages other health-promoting behaviors, such as regular exercise.
So, yes, vaping is on the rise—and that's clearly a victory for public health. How this is "concerning" escapes me.
Kids should chew nicotine gum?
The strangest part of Stabile's story was the following section:
There are several options for nicotine replacements, including nicotine patches and gum sold at most drugstores. "Any adult who is using e-cigarettes or vaping will probably benefit from nicotine replacement therapy," [Dr. Itai Danovitch, director of psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Hospital,] said.
For kids, the psychiatrist recommended they should only use nicotine replacement therapies if their addiction has been "well-established."
This prompts an important question. Stabile and her preferred experts warned readers that “Vaping is just as addictive as cigarettes … “'The long-term addiction is a concern in young people because of the developing brain," Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center director Dr. Taylor Hays added. But with those comments in mind, how can anybody encourage teenagers to use nicotine-containing gums and patches while discouraging them from vaping?
My point is not that teenagers should be vaping; teenagers should not consume nicotine from any source. But the fallacy underlying Stabile's advice must be called out. If nicotine harms the adolescent brain, it does so whether it comes from patches, gums, or e-cigarettes.
The only other possible justification for the double standard is that vaping products contain more nicotine than gums and patches. This is a misconception, however. Hays recommended that “Regular vape users should try 14-milligram nicotine patches and then taper off after several weeks.” But that's comparable to many liquids used in e-cigarettes, which generally range from zero to eighteen milligrams, though some are indeed stronger. Patches go up to 21 milligrams.
Putting everything together, here's what we've learned:
- Many public health experts are eager to discourage vaping as a smoking-cessation tool.
- There are very few ingredients in e-cigarettes that can be construed as harmful.
- This has forced anti-vaping activists to bet all their chips on nicotine as the primary villain.
- But the pharmaceutical products they openly endorse also contain nicotine—and evidence continues to build that vaping is a better intervention for many smokers.
Tobacco controllers have painted themselves into an embarrassing corner. Would somebody please tell these people they've lost the argument?