By Julianne Malveaux
Smoking kills. We’ve all heard the public service announcements, seen the ads featuring hard-breathing people dying from lung cancer. We’ve all heard about what smoking does to lungs and hearts and stamina. And this issue is personal for me. My 90-year-old mama smoked until she was diagnosed with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) more than a decade ago. Until then, she tried almost everything she could to quit – from the patch to pills to an ill-advised attempt to stop smoking by smoking brands she did not like! Smoking kills, and nicotine is addictive. And it hits African Americans harder than others, although we start smoking later and smoke fewer cigarettes than whites. Still, smoking is associated with the top three killer diseases for blacks – heart disease, cancer, and strokes. But short of outlawing tobacco, how do we stop, or reduce, addiction to nicotine?
Municipalities tax cigarettes as a way to provide a financial disincentive from smoking. But research shows that those addicted to nicotine, especially African American smokers, do not adjust their smoking habits in the face of increased prices. (https://smokingcessationleadership.ucsf.edu/raceethnicity) Entrepreneurs and scientists have also responded by developing market-based smoking cessation products. Nicorette gum, approved in 1984, is an example of the way that the effect of nicotine is somewhat minimized by delivering nicotine without smoke. Similarly, Nicoderm CQ is patch delivers nicotine through the skin. Most recently, Nicorette has developed a mint lozenge. Then there is medication – the FDA approved Zyban in 1997. Chantix was approved in 2006, and its price has doubled since 2013. These drugs have had mixed effectiveness in stopping smoking.
So, what about e-cigarettes, a way for smoking addicts (they don’t like it when you call them that) to ingest nicotine in a less harmful way than smoking? I think they are a great way to ameliorate some of the effects of smoking. And e-cigarettes don’t have the same harmful effects of second-hand smoke. With the majority of Black children being exposed to second-hard smoke that’s reason enough to consider e-cigarettes. Lot of folks disagree. They think that selling e-cigarettes promotes smoking, not contains it. They think that flavored e-cigarettes are attractive to teens and make it easier for them to begin smoking. They would restrict access to e-cigarettes because they are convinced that they are bad for public health.
I beg to differ! I think that e-cigarettes are a way for those addicted to nicotine to minimize the effects of their smoking. I wonder if my mom would experience fewer consequences from her years of smoking if she had the e-cigarette option years ago. She was always clear that smoking killed, and when I was a kid and experimented with smoking, was forced to eat a cigarette, upchuck the effects, and be turned off tobacco for life. But as clear as she was, she struggled with that addiction, and as easily doing a pack a day when she quit. Would e-cigarettes have eased her pain and help her manage her addiction? I think so. (http://csures.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Russell-et-al-2018-Smoking-Transitions-Among-Adult-JUUL-Users.pdf)
For sure, using products like the vaping product Juul would have saved her money. A study from LendEdu says that those who switch from cigarettes to the vaporized JUUL product save $58 per month from the switch (https://lendedu.com/blog/financial-cost-of-juul). Will they eventually stop smoking? There is no research to support that premise. However, it is clear that vaping is less dangerous than smoking. That, alone, is a reason to make ecigarettes and other products that vaporize nicotine available to the public.
Efforts to ensure that young people have limited access to e-cigarettes and other products that vaporize tobacco are appropriate. Efforts to restrict access to others are ill-advised. If we care about those who are committed to smoking and addicted to nicotine, then we will make it easy for them to access alternatives to smoking. E-cigarettes may change, even save, their lives.
The ads that tell us that smoking kills tells only part of the story. The other part is that nicotine has major negative health effects, but that those who are addicted can ingest it less harmfully. This should be of particular concern to the African American community, since so many are dying from smoke-related causes.
Public policy should embrace, not condemn, electronic cigarettes. And health advocates should not be fooled by the hype of vaping prohibition while smoking addicts are seeking alternatives.
Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist. Her latest book “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy” is available via www.amazon.com for booking, wholesale inquiries or for more info visit www.juliannemalveaux.com.