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Eric Johnson: No data to prove e-cigs reduce smoking

Eric Johnson

GRAND FORKS -- Vaping is smoking, although the Herald's editorial board thinks otherwise ("E-cigs bring benefits in smoking reduction," editorial, Page F1, March 15).

Although there is plenty of speculation, there is no significant data to support a public health benefit of e-cigarettes, and saying they are beneficial is harmful to our youth and smokers, who are trying to quit.

E-cigs use a battery-powered electric combustion system to put the nicotine and other additives into a vapor that is inhaled, resulting in extremely efficient delivery of nicotine. The vapor is not water; it is usually a liquid from the glycol family of chemicals, which are similar to antifreeze products.

Some e-cig companies have attracted the attention of the FDA, as there are problems with contamination from toxins such as heavy metals and aldehyde compounds.

States across the country are waiting for the FDA to rule on whether or not e-cigarettes are harmful, if they are tobacco products, and if physicians can confidently and safely help patients quit smoking by recommending these products.

I have worked in the field of tobacco-related disease, cessation and research as part of my job for more than a decade and recently attended the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco meeting in Philadelphia. At this international meeting, the consensus was still "wait and see" -- wait for more data, and see if e-cigarettes actually work without promoting nicotine addiction.

At this meeting, data was also presented to show that younger e-cigarette users often use other tobacco products. Right now, the North Dakota Legislature is considering whether e-cigarettes should be classified as tobacco products for the purposes of common-sense regulation -- particularly to prohibit sale to those under age 18.

Twenty-three cities in North Dakota, including Grand Forks, already have taken this step, as they felt it was imperative to keep e-cigs out of the hands of youth.

Tobacco companies and e-cig manufacturers want people to think they have the only answer to a desperate situation. But they have no significant data to make the claim that e-cigs help stop smoking, and e-cig manufacturers don't have any real data to show that they are safe. That is why they are not FDA approved.

As well, tobacco products like e-cigs have packaging that says things like "not a safe alternative to cigarette smoking" or "not intended as a smoking cessation device." These are plainly visible on their own packaging, so it's disingenuous for anyone to say that they are an effective and accepted strategy.

There are many FDA-approved cessation products that actually have data for how well they work, as well as an established safety profile. In addition, North Dakota is one of two states that fully funds tobacco prevention and cessation programs. NDQuits, a telephone and online counseling system that is free to North Dakotans, actually has scientific data to show that it works. It is known to be about 10 times better than trying to go "cold turkey."

North Dakotans have been successfully beating the urge to go back to their old habit and addiction to "light up." Let's not go backwards over some unproven product, some of which are actively promoted by tobacco companies.

I ask e-cigarette and tobacco companies to bring us the data. Show us that e-cigarettes are not harmful and do not cause addiction.

It would be great to have more ways to help people quit smoking. We'd love to have more tools in the toolbox, and I hope we do someday. But until tobacco and e-cig companies prove that e-cigarettes are the best, safe alternative, I can't recommend them.