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Ecig Advocacy by Health Gurus: Turning Tide or Tsunami?

There is no information in this week's editorials on e-cigs that will surprise the vaping community. The revelations being made public are merely what vapers have been saying all along: that vaping is orders of magnitude safer than smoking, and that the much-needed long-term studies are likely to turn up miniscule dangers if any at all. That non-smokers, even adolescent ones, are not taking up vaping, only current smokers, and thus it is not a "gateway to smoking". That vaping is helping many thousands of people quit smoking.

The surprise is who is making these statements, and where they are making them. The research is coming out of top research universities and institutes, and published in prestigious publications. The "revelations" could not be more influentially placed, nor could they come from more impeccable scientific sources. A review of scientific literature on the subject has been published in the journal Addiction (abstract), one of the world's foremost scientific publications on substance use. (The full article is available for purchase at the abstract site, but the most important bits are reported in the Addiction press release, and in the Health News section of the London Times.)

The authors are five top-level scientists: Peter Hajek and his colleague Hayden McRobbie of London's St. Mary's University, Jean François Etter of the University of Geneva, Neal Benowitz of the University of California at San Francisco (a more moderate colleague at UCSF of an outspoken e-cig foe), and Thomas Eissenberg of Virginia Commonwealth University (recently designated, and funded, as a research center on vaping products by the US Food and Drug Administration, along with UCSF).

Also a pleasant surprise is the forceful character of the scientists' statements. Hajek urges doctors to recommend vaping to patients having trouble with other quit methods, as the Times reports. "Health-care professionals should support smokers unable or unwilling to stop tobacco use who wish to switch to electronic cigarettes to reduce harm from smoking," concludes the study. In fact, they can be "emphatically" advised to try e-cigarettes.

Regulating EC as strictly as cigarettes, or even more strictly as some regulators propose, is not warranted on current evidence,

states the article's abstract.

"There is no sign that children are being lured into smoking by e-cigarettes and good reason to hope the products can slash the death toll from tobacco, according to researchers," reports the Times, commenting on an interview with Hajek. "There are strong hints of drops in cigarette use and that’s really the only thing that matters," adds Hajek.

Hajek pooh-poohs the move by Big Tobacco to produce e-cigarettes, calling it the result of "panic". On the contrary, vaping is "a grass roots phenomenon", spreading by "word of mouth, not commercially driven." His conclusions suggest that vaping will survive overzealous regulation and even advertising bans.

Calling e-cigs that are approved for sale in Britain "well-made", with "few problems", Hajek goes on to say, “a couple of years ago we would have said we didn’t know enough about them, but it isn’t true anymore.”

Warning of the danger that innovation will be stymied, Hajek states: "If you over-regulate now to avoid future hypothetic dangers you will not allow the potential benefits to occur and I think that is the greater danger.”

Addiction's editor Professor Robert West decries "confusion in the public mind" because of a "propaganda war" against e-cigarettes. "This review will hopefully help set the record straight on the true state of the evidence.”

Indeed, the decisions of regulators on e-cigs "likely will feature among the key public health decisions of our time," proclaims the press release in Addiction.