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Doctored Decision

The battle continues. When the surgeon general of the United States released his report on e-cigarettes in early December, it sent the vapor industry into an uproar. Vivek H. Murthy did concur with the research consensus that e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes because they don’t combust. However, he also stated that there isn’t enough evidence supporting the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as an aid for quitting conventional cigarettes.

His report concludes that e-cigarette use among young people is strongly associated with the use of other tobacco products, including traditional cigarettes. He claims the growing use of e-cigarettes among young people “is now a major public health concern.” Murthy recommended the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put regulations into effect immediately.

What Murthy seems to have intentionally omitted in his report are statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that show that while e-cigarette use has risen among young people, smoking rates have gone down dramatically. In fact, combustible cigarettes use among U.S. middle school students fell to 2.3 percent from 4.3 percent between 2011 and 2015, which corresponds with the rise of the vapor market. There is also a 2016 National Institute of Drug Addiction (NIDA) funded survey Monitoring the Future, that refutes many of Murthy’s comments and claims new record lows for lifetime, past month, daily and half-pack-a-day-or-more cigarette smoking since 2015. Cigarette smoking among 8th graders declined 28 percent, according to the NIDA study. The study also found that past month e-cig use among 8th graders declined 35 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Vapor industry advocates were quick to respond to the report. “The long tradition of scientifically rigorous messages and reports from the U.S. surgeon general appears to have ended,” lamented Edward Anselm, senior fellow at R Street, a public policy research organization promoting free markets and limited, effective government. “Every study of e-cigarettes has shown a dramatic reduction in harmful and potentially harmful compounds that cause cancer, emphysema and heart disease.”

Michael Siegel, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, called the report scientifically dishonest. Siegel says Murthy lied about vapor products being a form of tobacco use. Siegel suggests “that they do not contain tobacco and that therefore vaping is not a form of tobacco use.” Siegel also says that if, as stated by Murthy, vaping is a form of tobacco use, then so is using nicotine replacement therapy.

“And if the surgeon general is serious in stating that ‘any form of tobacco use’ is dangerous, then why isn’t he warning people who are using nicotine gum and nicotine patches?” he asked. “Obviously, it would be terribly misleading and deceptive to tell the public that the nicotine patch is a form of tobacco use. It would be lying to tell the public that people who use the nicotine patch are tobacco users. But the nicotine in a nicotine patch is derived from the same tobacco as is the nicotine in e-cigarettes.”

Although loaded with selective statistics and cherry-picked evidence, Murthy’s report did accomplish something positive. It shines a bright light on the amount of misinformation around vapor products being disseminated by the U.S. government and anti-tobacco advocates alike. There is a power shift happening in the country’s capital though. The future of vapor hasn’t quite been decided … yet.