When it comes to tobacco, truly healthy alternatives are a myth | Guest CommentaryACTA
Since its inception, e-cigarette use (or vaping) has been marketed as a “healthy” alternative to cigarettes, and even as a pathway to quitting tobacco use altogether.
Unfortunately, no current scientific evidence supports either claim. When it comes to stopping tobacco, safe and proven alternatives exist, but none involve vaping.
When it comes to quitting tobacco, a comprehensive study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2021 showed that vaping was not associated with any decrease in smoking among adults.
More alarmingly, adolescents, among whom vaping rates are skyrocketing, are more likely to transition from vaping to smoking cigarettes. These findings disprove the claim that vaping helps people quit smoking and suggest that it contributes to nicotine addiction.
Separate from addiction, vaping poses significant health risks. According to a 2023 scientific statement by the American Heart Association, e-cigarettes have been found to hurt heart and lung health, contributing to the hospitalization of 3,000 people in 2019. Even in e-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine, heavy metals and carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals) pose risks to the heart and lungs.
For tobacco companies, vaping is a big business whose marketing targets some of the most vulnerable populations in the United States. Misleading marketing strategies contributed to a major class-action lawsuit against Juul and included charges of targeting teenagers.
E-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco products among middle and high school students in the United States. Other vulnerable groups include racial minorities, veterans and those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds; they comprise a large segment of the vaping market.
Misleading marketing that targets youth and vulnerable populations and which paints e-cigarettes as healthy is both irresponsible and unethical.
Psychiatrists seek to protect these vulnerable groups and other tobacco users by providing them with evidence-based information on the effects of these products and how people can quit using them safely. Because of the relatively recent nature of e-cigarettes, further study is required on their long-term effects on our bodies.
Yet another dimension is cannabis vaping, which carries all the risks of tobacco vaping and the psychiatric risks of tetrahydrocannabinol. The government must make research into the effects of vaping a priority, as widespread tobacco use remains one of the most persistent risks to the health of the population.
Like other addictions, there is no silver bullet for ending tobacco use, but treatment works and recovery is possible. Users seeking to quit should ask a medical professional about proven and safer methods like nicotine replacement therapy, which includes a broad spectrum of treatments ranging from over-the-counter patches, gum and lozenges, to prescription nasal sprays and inhalers.
Prescription medications can also help people quit smoking. Several behavioral interventions can also help, including support through the national Quit Line (1-800-QUIT-NOW), which has been helping people stop since 1992.
Though the road to recovery can be long, quitting or reducing tobacco use can dramatically increase the length and quality of life. We should keep an eye on emerging research on vaping, be wary of the hype, and rely on proven, safer options in the meantime.