It is not often that well-respected nonprofit organizations take the side of the powerful against the weak. Yet that, in my view, is where the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the Truth Campaign find themselves these days in the debate over e-cigarettes.
That’s why I’ve been spending time lately reporting and writing about e-cigarettes, and why I hope to continue to do so. The topic has been neglected, and it’s important because the lives of tens of millions of smokers are at stake.
Yesterday in Medium, I wrote a story about bans on flavored e-cigarettes that have been enacted by three states — New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island — and a number of cities, including San Francisco and Chicago. Similar bans are being debated around the country.
Public health experts, some of whom have worked on tobacco issues for decades, tell me that these bans are misguided. E-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking. Their use by teens is declining. They are also a tool that can help smokers quit.
So why the bans? Because parents, most of them white and middle-class, have been whipped into a frenzy about vaping by groups like Tobacco-Free Kids and the Truth Initiative, as well as by the U.S. Surgeon General and the CDC. My reporting has led me to believe that they have exaggerated the dangers of vaping and downplayed the benefits. This isn’t to suggest that anyone who is not a smoker should vape. They most definitely should not. The nicotine in e-cigs is addictive and it may have negative affects on developing brains.
But fears of a so-called epidemic of vaping among teenagers have led to these bans, which keep flavored vapes out of the hands of smokers for whom they could be life-saving. (In England, the government recommends vapes as an aid to quitting.) The 34 million smokers in the US tend to be less-educated, poor, more likely to suffer from mental illness, LGBTQ or Native American, when compared to the total population. They don’t have political clout. They’re mostly unheard in this debate.
You can read my story here.