Do E-Cigarettes Lead to Tobacco Use?
From E-Cig to Tobacco
The impact vaping has, and will have, on society is complex. Since it is a relatively new phenomenon, there is a lot of controversy over what effect this technology will have in the long run. Many still believe, despite much evidence to the contrary, that vaping will inevitably lead to a whole new generation of smokers, thus worsening a massive public health crisis.
There are many aspects of this controversy. Some say that tobacco companies are using e-cigarettes as a new tool to hook children to smoking through delicious flavors and clever advertising. Others fear that a new and popular nicotine delivery system will increase the number of nicotine addicts in society and boost smoking rates. Still others say that vaping makes smoking look cool and trendy again and serves to undermine all of the progress we’ve made in cutting down on smoking rates by demonizing tobacco use.
I’m going to tell you why these claims are all bogus.
‘Renormalization’ of Smoking
Many public health officials and legislators have expressed grave concerns that the widespread use of e-cigarettes will lead to the ‘renormalization’ of tobacco use. For instance, The American Heart Association* (AHA) issued a policy statement, in part saying that ‘the use of e-cigarettes could be a problem at the population level, their acceptance has the potential to renormalize smoking behavior.’
What officials mean when they say ‘renormalize’ is that they believe vaping will make smoking look normal, or even cool, once again. A huge part of the public health effort to stamp out smoking has been the campaign to make smoking look less attractive to people, and also to make it look less common, so that young people are less inclined to start smoking.
Officials fear that the proliferation of public vaping will lead to young people attempting to emulate this behavior by smoking. They fear that if ‘smoking’ becomes ‘normal’ again, smoking rates will start to go up.
The problem with this is that it’s based in the assumption that vaping looks like smoking. Many non-vapers think of cigarette-style devices when they think of e-cigarettes, and so they imagine that it looks just like smoking. On the contrary, the equipment that most of us use rarely mimics a cigarette. The most commonly used vaporizers, such as ego-style devices, MVPs with clearos, and mechanical mods with drippers, look so different from cigarettes that people who are unfamiliar with vaping often have no idea what they are.
As a result, vaping does not renormalize smoking. It normalizes vaping.
The Flavor Dilemma
Public health officials seem to always be looking out for children. Many of their fears about how vaping will impact our society in the future seem to revolve around children.
One of their most touted fears, by far, is the fear that children will be attracted to vaping because of the many flavors it offers. They say that because some of the flavors are attractive to kids, children will want to try them, and may therefore get hooked on them. An even more damning and dramatic variation of this is the notion that vapor companies put flavors in their e-liquid for the sole purpose of attracting children to it. This terror has gone so far that New York City is now seriously considering a complete ban of all flavored e-liquid throughout the city.
This fear is ridiculous for a couple of reasons. One is the fact that it is already illegal to sell these products to anyone under 18 years of age in most jurisdictions. Children would have a hard time accessing these products in the first place, so why are health officials so worried about flavors attracting them? Secondly, it conveniently ignores all of the other adult-only flavored products on the market, including liquor and nicotine gum, that are also illegal to sell to children. Why all the fuss about candy-flavored vapors when no one seems to be interested in watermelon-flavored Smirnoff?
Officials and legislators are also conveniently ignoring why adults would want so many flavors of vapor in the first place. Clearly there is a huge market for it, and yet they don’t seem to consider why.
The truth of the matter is, we vape as a replacement for smoking. In order to maintain a lifelong abstinence from cigarettes and save our health, many of us need to feel that vaping is more enjoyable than smoking. One aspect of this is to make sure it tastes better. That simple concept of a tasty vape has elevated into a complex culinary art, with now thousands of flavors to choose from ranging from simple fruits to decadent custard and beverage blends. Many of the flavors developed for us have names that children wouldn’t even recognize, because it’s not for them. Vaping is for adults only, and adults like things that taste good as well.
Another attempt in the never-ending quest of public health officials to save our children from the vice of e-cigarettes is to tackle advertising. Many espouse fears that advertisements for vape products are designed to attract the attention of ‘young people’ (teens I assume) and get them to try vaping, hooking them into a lifelong habit.
Unfortunately for them, most vape advertisements look something like this:
In fact, most of the ads I found in this simple google image search are either just as boring or are not safe for work. I’m having a hard time finding even one that’s not clearly geared toward adults. If officials truly believe that advertisements like this are designed to hook children, then it seems the only way they will be satisfied is if products like this were never advertised at all.
That, however, would be an infringement on the vapor industry’s freedom of speech.
The central fear that ties together all of this is that vaping could hook a new generation on tobacco. The idea behind this is that nicotine is addictive, and that this addiction could lead to more people becoming addicted to smoking.
On the contrary, nicotine by itself is not addictive. It is only addictive when combined with some of the other chemicals present in tobacco smoke. As such, it is highly unlikely that someone exposed to a nicotine-only product will become addicted at all. Please read my previous article for more information on the addictiveness of nicotine.
Thus, if a nonsmoker tries vaping, they are highly unlikely to become addicted to it, and even less likely to become addicted to smoking because of it.
As in other arguments decrying the societal impact of vaping, a variation of this is that tobacco companies are using vaping to get people hooked on smoking. This doesn’t make logical sense, however, since the vast majority of vapor products are produced by companies that have no affiliation with tobacco. In fact, it would work against vapor companies if their products led to tobacco use, since it would drive business away from them.
The Real Impact of Vaping on Society
For all of their fear mongering, public health officials have failed to predict the impact vaping will really have on our society. E-cigarettes have been in the U.S. for about 7 years now, and have exploded in popularity since then. There are now millions of vapers, and that number will continue to increase dramatically over the next decade as more people turn to vaping in an effort to cut down or quit smoking. We are just now beginning to see the real consequences of widespread vaping.
Smoking rates are dropping for the first time in decades.
In the United Kingdom, a country that has maintained a more permissive attitude toward vaping than most, smoking rates have hit all time lows across the population. Data from the CDC are showing that smoking rates among youth are dropping, even as e-cig experimentation continues to increase.
Public officials are attempting to attribute these decreases to anti-smoking campaigns, particularly to higher taxes on cigarettes. The problem with this is that these anti-smoking campaigns have been in place for decades, and yet we are only seeing these dramatic drops over the last few years. Clearly vaping is playing a role in population-wide smoking reduction.
The verdict is in: E-cigarettes save lives, and we now have proof.
*Please note that the AHA received $13.8 million in funding from pharmaceutical companies last year.