E-cigs: Helping or hurting?

HealthBeat

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — One month ago, South Dakota implemented a ban on using electronic smoking devices in public places and workplaces.

As regulations on vaping products continue across the country, a recent study in the journal of Substance Abuse & Misuse raises concerns that people may smoke more tobacco and vape less.

As certain vaping flavors are taken off the shelves and bans are put in place experts say e-cig options are becoming limited. Sandra Williams-Luther, owner of Blown Away Vape in Sioux Falls says the tobacco industry is playing a big role in shining a negative light on vaping.

“I’ve been watching the trend a lot. Even San Francisco has banned all e-cigarette devices even and I think it’s a way, they’re going backwards,” Sandra Williams-Luther said.

“There was just one of these articles that I received that said patients that use an e-cigarette daily are 77 percent more likely to quit smoking than patients that don’t use an e-cigarette. However, they’re switching from one nicotine delivery device to another,” Dr. Anthony Hericks said.

Dr. Hericks with Avera Health says inhaling nicotine in a tobacco cigarette or e-cig can cause health issues, and because e-cigs aren’t regulated it’s hard to determine exactly what types of health issues to expect without more research. But even with that in mind, Hericks says making the switch from tobacco cigarettes to e-cigs is beneficial.

“I think using an e-cigarette as a way to quit smoking is very, very good thing to do. I think the problem is you have to have a plan,” Hericks said.

Just like using a nicotine patch or gum, Hericks says there must be a plan to wean yourself off of the nicotine completely. But as e-cig regulations grow Williams-Luther has concerns that quitting tobacco with the help of e-cigs could become difficult.

“The tobacco industry has killed thousands of thousands of people and yet they can walk into a store, buy cigarettes for 6 bucks a pack and now they want to ban something that helps people,” Williams-Luther said.

Sandra says about half of her customers are former smokers who’ve quit, and since then turned to vaping.

“It is a great way to quit smoking and the people that do come back, some of them quit altogether. They quit e-cigarettes altogether, they don’t need it anymore. Some of them use it occasionally, when they feel that urge because like I said it is a really hard habit to leave behind you,” Williams-Luther said.

While Hericks says e-cigs could be helpful in quitting tobacco, he says all non-smokers, young adults, and women trying to become pregnant should avoid all e-cig products.

Williams-Luther says Blown Away Vape is against underage use of e-cigarette products and does not allow anyone under the age of 18 to purchase any products from her store.

To take a look at South Dakota’s current e-cigarette regulations, click here.

Statement from Rob Cool, Owner of Yocan USA in Sioux Falls:

To begin I think it is helpful to explain who we are. We started as an online vape retailer back in 2013. We quickly moved into nationwide distribution and wholesale of vape and smoke shop products. In the last year we have opened up to local retail because people kept calling asking if they could visit our shop (which was actually a warehouse). I mention this because I think it makes us pretty uniquely positioned to speak on the issues you are looking at. While South Dakota has not implemented a flavor ban or vaping tax we serve vape shops in states where those things have occurred. 

Our average customer is over 30 and looking to quit smoking. 96% of our customers choose a flavor other than tobacco or mint/menthol to help them quit smoking. The vast majority of our customers who use an e-cig to quit smoking use a ‘flavored’ vape product.

In states with significant vaping taxes, like Vermont (92% vaping tax), what we have seen is a significant slowdown in vaping adoption. Vaping is normally about 80% cheaper than smoking. Adding significant taxes reduces or negates the cost advantage. While they may not push people back to smoking, vaping taxes do significantly slow down the adoption rate at which people move from smoking to vaping. 

Flavor bans on the other hand are another matter. In markets with flavor bans we have seen fairly catastrophic results. Vape sales drop significantly and shops close. It is difficult to get hard data but anecdotal feedback from our wholesale customers indicates many of their customers gave up on vaping when they did not have access to flavors they found attractive. People stop attempting to make the switch, and those that have made the switch already often move to out of state online suppliers in order to continue to receive the flavors they enjoy. 

The FDA has proposed (March 13, 2019 statement from Scott Gottlieb) that flavored e-cig products be sold only in adult-only settings, like vape shops, and we fully support that. We strongly believe this is an effective method to combat any temptation flavored products might present to kids while still allowing adult smokers reasonable access to the single most successful smoking cessation device in history. 

While vaping research in the US is often partisan and paid for by groups with specific agendas the UK’s NHS has done a significant amount of independent vaping research. Their studies indicate that while people trying nicotine gum have less than a 9% success rate in stopping smoking, e-cig users enjoy an almost 80% success rate.  The UK’s NHS also estimates e-cigs are 95% safer than smoking. 

Taxes on cigarettes are meant to offset increased healthcare costs and discourage harmful behavior. Applying the same taxes to products that successfully reduce that harm seems counterproductive. Most news stories seem to talk about e-cigs not being 100% safe. We agree. Vaping is about harm reduction, not the total elimination of harm. If someone can simply quit smoking we encourage it. If someone doesn’t smoke we don’t encourage them to start vaping as a fun hobby. For those who can’t stop smoking on their own, e-cigs provide a realistic path to a less harmful lifestyle. Flavors are an important element in helping many adults stop smoking and reduce the harm presented by carcinogens present in cigarette smoke. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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